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Pork producers need to be on guard for African swine fever

The disease is ravaging herds in China and Europe, and could come here through infected feed ingredients

African swine fever hasn’t been found in North America, but pork producers still have reason to be concerned.

Javier Bahamon.
photo: Supplied

“If we get it, we cannot control the spread and the whole population will be destroyed by it,” said Javier Bahamon, quality assurance and production manager with Alberta Pork.

“Pretty much the whole population of animals needs to be destroyed in a region that is infected.”

The contagious disease had been confined to Russia, Eastern Europe and Africa, but then it appeared in China in early August and has since spread to seven other provinces with nearly 30 cases reported. Then it showed up in Belgium, putting not only European health authorities on high alert, but also officials in North America.

  • Read more: China culls 200,000 pigs due to African swine fever – official

The disease poses no threat to humans, and is not as infectious as classical swine fever or porcine epidemic diarrhea. But it is hard to eradicate as infected animals that survive it can shed the virus for six months.

“It has different strains,” said Bahamon. “Some strains can cause up to 100 per cent mortality in a hog population. Some strains will only cause 50 per cent mortality, but 100 per cent morbidity, which means all the pigs will be affected by the disease.”

The only way to eradicate the disease in an operation is to euthanize all the animals. There is no treatment or vaccine.

The Chinese government has taken strict measures to contain the outbreak, including imposing quarantines on areas where the disease has been found. (The government recently arrested four people for forging documents and illegally transporting pigs from one quarantined province.)

“It’s a big deal because China is the biggest pork producer in the world,” said Bahamon. “It is a staple food for the Chinese people. There is pork everywhere. Since it’s such a staple part of the economy, it becomes a concern for the Chinese government as well.”

Even though the disease hasn’t been found in North America, Canadian producers are being warned to be extra vigilant.

It is generally transmitted through contact between animals, or via feces, saliva, or other fluids. But it can also be transmitted other ways, including through fresh or cured pork. That’s prompted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to develop a screening guide for visitors from high-risk countries, and people travelling from China to Canada are being warned not to bring those products into the country.

“It’s better not to bring over any pork at all,” said Bahamon.

But imported feed ingredients are also a threat, said presenters in a recent telephone town hall put on by Alberta Pork.

“Make sure you know where your ingredients are coming from, especially if you are mixing your own feed,” Alberta Pork’s summary of the town hall states. “If you are unsure, ask your supplier. Vitamins, amino acids and minerals are common feed ingredients coming from China. Higher-risk ingredients include soybean meal and animal byproducts.”

Symptoms of African swine fever resemble those of classical swine fever — high temperatures, a poor appetite, and lethargy (to the point, pigs will not want to walk). One difference is that ears and the back of the butt will be very red. A lab test is the only way to confirm the federally reportable disease.

Producers need to take the warnings seriously, and they should always know where their feed and feed ingredients, have come from, said Bahamon.

“It could be devastating for North America if this disease arrives,” he said. “It is really important that everyone is doing their own little piece of biosecurity. Everyone needs to be safe on this.”

The telephone town hall is archived on the Alberta Pork website, entitled ‘Keeping ASF out of Canada’.

This article first appeared on AGCanada.com.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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