May 22, 2022

Rural Issues: Holding the line

African swine fever was identified in eastern Africa in the early 1900s and it remained restricted on that continent until 1957. In the 1960s, African swine fever lost all respect for borders, spreading into Portugal. An outbreak in Cuba in 1971 resulted in the disposal of half a million pigs to keep the virus from spreading.

In the 1980s, outbreaks occurred in France, Belgium and other European countries. Due to a slaughter policy, Spain and Portugal effectively eradicated African swine fever by the mid-’90s.

An African swine fever outbreak in the country of Georgia in 2007 was soon an outbreak in Armenia, Iran, Belarus and Russia. From 2012 to 2017, outbreaks occurred in Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia and the Czech Republic.

In 2018, China, the world’s largest producer of pork, experienced an outbreak that spread like wildfire throughout that country, decimating the hog herd before spreading into Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. It was then that the world really started paying attention to African swine fever.

In 2021, Haiti and the Dominican Republic confirmed the first outbreaks in the Americas in nearly four decades. There has never been a known case in the United States, and we need to do everything we can to keep it that way.

There is currently no treatment or effective vaccine for this highly contagious and deadly viral disease that affects both domestic and feral swine of all ages.

The National Pork Board has estimated that an outbreak of African swine fever in the United States could cost our pork industry as much as $8 billion a year. Yes, that’s billion with a “B.”

Humans are not susceptible to the virus, and it is not a food safety concern, but the economic repercussions of an outbreak could be devastating.

As a farm broadcaster, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to several countries covering agriculture for farmers in the United States. One of the most frustrating things that has happened to me when returning home was the lack of screening after I had indicated on my Customs Declaration form that I had been on a farm in another country.

Even more frustrating is when farmers, who have the most to lose, fail to answer “yes” to the question asking if they’ve visited a farm during their stay, to save themselves the hassle of further screening by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

According to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some animal diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease, avian or swine influenza and African horse sickness can survive and remain infectious for up to a week on your clothes shoes and other items. The diseases, which may not affect people, can also be carried on skin, hair, under your fingernails and even in your nasal passages.

Friends, if your travels outside of the United States take you to a farm, or if you have contact with animals, markets or raw meat products while traveling, please be diligent in decreasing the risk of bringing a virus or “bug” of any kind back with you.

APHIS suggests you launder all clothing worn at the farm or when in contact with animals and to remove all dirt and debris from shoes or other articles before packing them.

Others in animal agriculture suggest you take it a step further and select cheap clothing and shoes that you can leave in the country before heading back to the United States.

All it takes is one person carrying the virus to destroy animal agriculture in this country. Don’t be that guy.

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear is farm director and operations manager for Brownfield Network.