African swine fever's spread in China and other countries is one of the hottest topics in the worldwide swine industry. Questions have been raised about the potential animal health and economic impact to the U.S. swine industry.

While ASF is not present in the U.S., or any other country in the Western Hemisphere, the disease is leading to some changes here as well as having some economic impacts.

ASF is a highly contagious viral disease that only infects pigs.

Humans have never contracted ASF anywhere in the world and there is no food safety risk from ASF. Other animals and pets are not susceptible to ASF, unless the pet is a pig.

There is a very high mortality rate in pigs that are infected with the virus.

ASF is typically spread in swine by close contact such as nose-to-nose, ingestion of uncooked products. There is no vaccine to prevent or control ASF.

ASF  has been around for a long time, primarily in regions of Eastern Europe. However, it has spread into Asia in a big way. ASF was first confirmed in China in August 2018. By early 2019, it was identified in nearly every province in China as well as in Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia. It is continuing to spread across the region.

China is the number one producer and consumer of pork in the world. In 2017, China processed 700 million pigs, about five times the number processed in the U.S. In 2019, it is estimated that up to 200 million pigs could die or be destroyed in China as a result of ASF.

These alarming numbers are having a huge impact on Chinese pork producers and processors, the Chinese agriculture industry, and the overall economy of the country.

China normally imports about 2 percent of its pork consumption; this almost 20 percent of the total world pork trade. Major suppliers have been the United States and Europe. Many analysts are projecting Chinese pork imports to increase by 40 percent this year to compensate for the lost production.

Based on the expected increased demand in China, U.S. pork prices rose dramatically from late February to early April this year, with the lean hog price increasing by more than $25 per hundredweight. In recent weeks, lean hog prices have dropped back to more moderate levels.

The U.S. should be in a good position to meet the increased demand for pork products in China. However, the ongoing trade war with China, which adds about a 62% tariff on pork imports from the U.S., is tempering its purchases from the U.S. Instead, China has increased its imports from Europe and other countries.

USDA is working closely with leaders in the swine industry, state veterinarians, state agriculture departments, and land-grant universities to develop strategies to prevent and control AFS disease. These efforts include managing the disease if there is an outbreak here, as well as working on vaccines. 

ASF surveillance and prevention efforts being implemented by USDA include:

• Adding ASF to the existing surveillance efforts, including expansion of the testing capabilities and capacity of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

• Work with state veterinarians and the swine industry to test sick and high-risk pigs for ASF, including wild hogs and feral swine, in order to isolate any outbreak.

• Workwith agriculture and animal health officials on a coordinated approach to prevent ASF, control any outbreaks, and manage trade issues associated with ASF.

• Special attention at U.S. ports of entry, especially for passengers, cargo and products arriving from China and other ASF-positive countries.

Kent Thiesse, is a farm management analyst and senior vice president at MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, Minn.

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