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African swine fever: The risks and potential

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The African swine fever virus is not new, by any means. The endemic has been in the news lately, as it now spreads through China and western Europe.

What you need to know about the virus, below.

AUDIO: Christine McCracken, RaboResearch

The African Swine Fever virus has been in the news a lot, as of late. You may have questions about the risks it poses to you, as a United State producers. Christine McCracken, senior animal protein analyst for RaboResearch, shares the latest details.

“The African swine fever virus has been in the global pork herd for multiple years. It started in Africa and made its way up to the former Soviet states in 2007. It was spread on a ship and spread slowly through most of eastern Europe and Russia over the past decade. What’s changed recently is the movement into China and western Europe,” McCracken said.

The virus’ threat is many-fold, according to McCracken. She refers to it as being “nearly 100-percent lethal for hogs,” all the while noting disruptions to production.

“The risk is substantial herd losses, and it upsets the global bounds of production,” McCracken said. “There’s a risk anywhere swine is produced, but at this point we’re focused on the outbreak in China and the threat that it spreads through western Europe.”

As previously mentioned, “There’s a risk anywhere swine is produced.” United States producers are encouraged to follow through on biosecurity measures to lessen the disease’s threat.

“In the short run, we need to be focused on maintaining strict biosecurity around our operations. Making sure we’re doing everything we’re supposed to be doing in terms of maintaining a clean, efficient production system,” McCracken said. “Parts of the system that could present some risk – The industry is working on better understanding our feed supplies. A lot of our ingredients are sourced from China. What we’re doing, as an industry, is looking at potential contamination, potential routes for the virus to enter our food supply and try to secure that, so it isn’t a risk.”

The virus can also spread through processed meats. McCracken says the United States Custom Service has increased its efforts to prevent contaminated meats from enter the U.S. food supply.

McCracken does not believe we will see an end to the virus, despite best efforts. However, she believes the overseas outbreak could provide opportunities for United States pork producers, while pointing to notable losses in China.

“Exports in the U.S., for example, would almost need to double with relatively minimal losses in China. They have five times as many hogs as we have here in the U.S. Europe will also need to step up and export significantly more pork to China to fill that hole,” McCracken said. “South America, Mexico, Canada – these areas are going to need to contribute to that hole in supply, at least in the short run. Now longer-term, I expect them to build up better biosecurity protocol and more modern operations, (and) reduce the number of backyard farms they have.”

McCracken expects too see better biosecurity in China within the next couple of years.