Alarms raised after African swine fever crosses the Atlantic

Positive cases in the Dominican Republic have officials in Canada on high alert

African swine fever could potentially be spread by pork products from countries where the disease is present, which is why the Canada Border Services Agency uses ‘detector dogs’ like Ambrose.
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The arrival of African swine fever in the Caribbean has alarm bells ringing here.

“An outbreak of ASF in Canada could devastate the Canadian pig herd, placing farm families and tens of thousands of jobs along the entire value chain at risk,” the Canadian Pork Council said in a release. “A single, positive case could result in the immediate suspension of pork and pig exports valued at over $5 billion in 2020.”

The highly contagious disease decimated China’s pig herd, the world’s largest, after being detected there in 2018. And despite a massive border security effort, African swine fever recently made its way into German hog farms, likely via infected wild pigs from Poland.

In late July, American officials said samples from pigs in the Dominican Republic tested positive and they came from two farms that were geographically separated. The positive tests represent the first detection of the disease (which is often fatal in pigs but harmless to humans) in the Americas in about 40 years.

“The proximity of course is a concern,” said Paul Sundberg, executive director of the Swine Health Information Center in the U.S.

Canada Border Services Agency immediately added the Dominican Republic to the list of countries that border officers are screening for ASF risks. Since 2019, the agency has increased the number of detector dog teams and upped its public awareness efforts to warn air travellers not to bring pork products into Canada.

“While much progress has been made, there remain opportunities to eradicate wild pigs, enhance biosecurity and develop the response policies and programs that will be needed should there ever be a Canadian outbreak,” said Rick Bergmann, chair of the pork council.

One of the immediate steps needs to be determining how African swine fever crossed the Atlantic to the Dominican Republic, said Sundberg.

“Something happened with DR and we need to know what in order to make sure it doesn’t happen here,” he said.

In Germany, the economic impact was felt even before any domestic pigs were infected. The country had erected fencing and was trapping wild pigs along its border with Poland. But last fall, infected wild pigs were found in the eastern region of Brandenburg. Many countries immediately banned German pork imports, including China, which has undertaken a massive pork-buying spree since ASF decimated its herd.

So when three actual cases of the disease were found on pig farms in Brandenburg, there was no further drop in pig prices. It may also have helped that the region is not a major pig-farming area.

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