The Iowa Department of Agriculture in late September participated in a four-day simulation led by USDA to test current foreign animal disease response plans. The department was joined by representatives of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, state organizations and industry leaders to walk through plans that would be put into action in the event of an actual foreign animal disease outbreak.
The workshop focused on a possible African swine fever outbreak in the U.S. A highly contagious swine disease, ASF has killed millions of pigs in China and other countries. An outbreak in Iowa, the nation’s leading hog production state, would be disastrous for Iowa’s pork industry.
The top 14 swine-producing states participated in the workshop, which included a series of exercises and drills specific to ASF. Participating were Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Texas.
Preventing disease from entering
“An African swine fever outbreak does not represent a human health or food safety threat, but it could be devastating to Iowa’s farmers and economy,” says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “Our first goal is to prevent a foreign animal disease from entering the U.S., and this workshop is one of many steps our department has taken to prepare.
“During those four days we worked with USDA, state agencies, legislators, pork industry representatives and the 13 other states to test our plans. I’m pleased with the outcome. We’ve discovered what works well, and identified a few scenarios we still need to talk through so we can respond quickly if a real outbreak occurs.”
Each day of the exercise focused on different tactics deployed during an outbreak: detection, containment, eradication, and cleaning and disinfection. This allowed the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Iowa Department of Ag, state agencies, industry representatives and producers to put response plans into action to make sure they could be executed quickly and effectively.
Currently, there is no ASF treatment or vaccine available for pigs. The ASF virus has been detected in countries across Asia, Africa and Europe. The disease has not been found in North America at this time. “This disease is not a threat to human health and is not a food safety issue, but it is deadly to pigs,” Naig says.
Highly infectious disease in pigs
African swine fever’s threat is enormous in Iowa, which produces about 50 million pigs annually. The pork industry provides over 140,000 jobs and contributes $36.7 billion to Iowa’s economy.
ASF is spread “snout to snout,” says Andrew Hennenfent, a veterinarian who is the emergency management coordinator for the Iowa department of ag. He says a small amount of the virus can be carried from building to building and farm to farm, if producers aren’t using proper biosecurity practices. He urges managers of hog production facilities to review their efforts and, if needed, strengthen them.
In the event of an ASF outbreak, euthanized animals will be composted on-site, says Jeff Kaisand, state veterinarian at the Iowa department of agriculture. That part of the plan eliminates a lot of other issues, such as transporting infected carcasses down roadways, past other hog farms.
In 2015 when avian influenza killed and forced the destruction of 32 million chickens and turkeys in Iowa, some landfills declined to take the dead birds. Many of the carcasses were composted, incinerated or buried. Naig and Kaisand say with any mass depopulation of livestock, the state will have to work through various issues, including what to do with dead animals.
U.S. would lose pork export market
If ASF does hit the U.S., the nation will likely lose most of its pork export markets, says Dermot Hayes, an Iowa State University ag economist. About 27% of U.S. pork production is now exported. The lost exports would cut pork receipts by about 45%, and U.S. pork producers would lose $8 billion in just the first year, he estimates.
That would mean about a fourth of Iowa’s pork producers would shut down operations, Hayes says. “When you lose export markets, you have to downsize your industry. Getting rid of the disease in the U.S. would be difficult.”
Transportation of pigs would also be affected. Pigs are moved by truck, and with an incubation period of about 10 days for this disease, infected animals could be hauled hundreds of miles away before showing symptoms. “About a million pigs are moving in trucks on the road each day in the U.S.,” Hayes says.
China and countries in Africa are struggling to curb the disease’s spread to wild pig populations. “The feral or wild pig population is hard to control,” Hayes says. “I fear that we may be stuck with the disease forever if ASF got into the wild pig population.”
To learn more about ASF, visit iowaagriculture.gov
Plan calls for fast action
It’s not inevitable that African swine fever will enter the U.S., but if this deadly pig disease does show up here, Iowa Department of Agriculture officials and other agencies and producers in the hog industry would be called upon to aggressively work to control the disease and shut it down.
“We would locate sick animals and destroy those that test positive for the disease,” says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.
During the recent drill to simulate various outbreak scenarios, USDA presented state officials with a situation in which an infected Mississippi farm had sent pigs to four states, including Iowa. The state issued a “standstill order,” requiring producers to keep their pigs on their farms and giving truck drivers hauling pigs 12 hours to return to where their trip began or to reach their destination.
The goal is to be able to know for certain where the animals are located. A few hours later, USDA followed with a national order, restricting interstate pig transport. These directives would last at least 72 hours.
If the simulated outbreak had been real, Naig says state and federal officials would have quarantined and tested pigs on farms that received the potentially infected animals, as well as all pigs on farms within 6 miles around the infected pigs.
Naig says the state would also track the movement of anyone who had visited a potentially infected farm over the past month and would notify them that they may have been exposed to the disease. The state plans to depopulate a facility within 24 hours after tests from a diagnostic lab confirm the pigs are sick with ASF.