Ontario hog sector prepares for African swine fever threat

The appearance of ASF in China has heightened concerns about the disease’s potential to spread to North America

The detection over the past four years of African swine fever (ASF) in Eastern Europe was met with muted concern by Ontario’s pork producers. But since the first confirmation of the virus in China on Aug. 1, the alarm is now being raised.

Why it matters: AFS has potential to devastate Canadian swine herds if it enters the country, with serious trade implications.

Dr. Doug MacDougald said there are good reasons for that, given the heavy trade flows between China and Canada.

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He said Swine Health Ontario (SWO) is in the “really early days,” of developing a “command centre” to respond to cross-border swine disease. But until that goal is reached, “it’s certainly a real concern if China blows up” with an ASF epidemic.

MacDougald, a swine specialist with Stratford-based Southwest Ontario Veterinary Services, is the representative for the Ontario Pork Industry Council on SHO’s advisory board. SHO got its start as a response to the 2014 outbreak in the province of the porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus.

But Rome wasn’t built (or, perhaps more precisely, the walls protecting Rome weren’t built) in a day. The organization’s goal of implementing a rapid swine disease response system remains in development.

According to MacDougald, the command centre would be home to people with training specific to porcine disease outbreaks, “who are ready to implement what they’ve been trained to do as soon as possible.”

So far, the command centre remains a work in progress, and the SWO has applied for funding through the Agricultural Adaptation Council to further its effort.

In the meantime, the emergence of ASF in China, after reportedly first being brought (in its most recent European resurgence) to Lithuania from east Africa, elevates the level of concern in North America. The high frequency of back-and-forth trade between the two pork-producing and pork-consuming regions, means there’s now a much greater likelihood that feed ingredients from an infected region could make their way to the North America.

Other key means of transmission are through tick bites in the wild boar population, via cooked or uncooked meat, and through manure or other DNA on the boots or clothing of people travelling between farms.

Bianca Jamieson, media relations strategist with OMAFRA, said in an email that OMAFRA is “monitoring the reports about cases of ASF in China.”

She added that “the Ontario swine industry has taken the lessons learned from previous experiences with PED and Senecavirus A and are well-positioned with respect to understanding the importance of biosecurity and the specific measures needed to prevent the introduction of disease to their farms.”

While agreeing that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) would be the lead agency across the country in the event of the emergence of ASF, MacDougald stressed the finalization of the SWO command centre would provide considerable assurance for the province’s swine sector.

Until that happens, he urged pork producers to make sure they know everything they can and be ready to implement actions to help prevent ASF’s spread.

About the author

Contributor

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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