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African swine fever vaccine closer to reality

Hog Outlook: Help is on the horizon for U.S. producers as a Vietnamese company takes a vaccine to commercial production.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

May 9, 2022

3 Min Read
piglets grouped in pen
HIGH HOPES: Recent research shows promise for a vaccine candidate that helps U.S. and global pork producers fight costly African swine fever.National Pork Board

A lot has been said and written about African swine fever, both from its rampant spread across central Europe and Asia, to the economic impact it would have on the U.S. pork industry and the entire ag economy.

To say an ASF outbreak in the U.S. swine herd would be devastating is an understatement. If ASF were to hit the U.S. swine herd, international markets would immediately close to U.S. pork.

An Iowa State University study looks at two scenarios of ASF hitting the nation’s herd — one where the country is unable to eliminate the disease over a 10-year period, and the other operates under the assumption that the disease is under control and the country’s pork products can reenter export markets within two years.

Under both scenarios, the study shows U.S. live hog prices would decline by 40% to 50%. In the two-year scenario, the industry faces a period of large financial losses, but is back in the export markets before significant downsizing begins. Pork industry revenue losses add up to $15 billion in the two-year scenario, and a little over $50 billion in the all-years scenario.

Nationwide employment losses equal 140,000 jobs at the end of 10 years in the all-years scenario. There are almost no job losses at the end of 10 years for the two-year scenario.

This study was published in 2020, and ASF was squarely on the radar of U.S. animal health issues — but still at a safe distance away in Europe and Asia. That was until last year when the lethal swine virus was detected in pig herds in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, too close for comfort.

It needs to be stressed that ASF is not transmissible to humans and does not pose a risk to human health.

U.S. swine producers learned the importance of strict biosecurity measures to keep most pathogens away, and that diligence also pays off against ASF. Tack on the efforts of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents screening incoming travelers and the Beagle Brigade sniffing out illegal pork products, and so far, ASF has been kept at bay.

But what happens when these efforts won’t be good enough, and U.S. hog producers need more than biosecurity to keep their herds healthy?

Help on the way?

A glimmer of hope came in late April when scientists with the USDA Agriculture Research Service announced that an ASF vaccine candidate passed an important safety test required before it can receive ultimate regulatory approval.

An ARS press release says the vaccine is one step closer to commercial availability, and that this test is a milestone as part of a series of safety studies. These new results show that USDA’s vaccine candidate does not revert to its normal virulence after being injected into swine. This “reversion to virulence” test is required to ensure that the vaccine’s weakened form of the ASF virus does not revert to its original state.

“This is a critical milestone for the ASF vaccine candidate,” senior ARS scientist Manuel Borca says. “These safety studies bring this vaccine one step closer to being available on the market.”

The safety studies are necessary to gain approval for use in Vietnam and eventually in other countries around the world. Future commercial use, however, will depend on approval from the department of animal health within each requesting country.

The vaccine candidate was recently selected by a Vietnamese company for commercial development in that country. The company, National Veterinary Joint Stock Co., or NAVETCO, has partnered with ARS on ASF vaccine research and development since 2020. Further development will continue once the vaccine candidate receives regulatory approval from Vietnam.

This promising research will pay huge dividends, obviously for Vietnamese pigs, but also globally if the vaccine becomes commercially available and is widely adopted in pork-production countries. There is more at stake than a steady supply of chops and bacon. The livelihoods of U.S. hog producers could hang in the balance.

Schulz, a Farm Progress senior staff writer, grew up on the family hog farm in southern Minnesota, before a career in ag journalism, including National Hog Farmer.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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