Difference Makers: Dr. Patrick Webb

difference makersWhat is the current status of African swine fever (ASF) worldwide?

In one word, it is spreading. African swine fever began its march in 2007, beginning in the country of Georgia and moving into Russia, the European Union and eventually China. It is also spreading into North and South Korea, the Philippines, Laos and others. ASF will continue to spread through Asia because there are not good biosecurity protocols in place. Farmers are moving infected pigs and feeding plate waste garbage that contains meat products harboring the virus. Asia is going to have to live with it, and the rest of the world must accept that.

What is the likelihood it will be found in the United States?

Now that ASF has been confirmed in China, more people are aware of the seriousness of the disease and are taking its control to heart. With that said, university research shows the risk has doubled for ASF to reach the U.S., either through a deliberate infection, travelers bringing ethnic meat products into the country which may contain the virus, or other ways. While there are states that allow plate waste to be fed to pigs here, facilities are known, licensed and inspected. As long as they are in compliance, we can mitigate that risk.

What is the United States doing to be prepared for ASF, should it reach this country?

There are two camps. The first is the prevention camp and the steps being taken to stop it from entering the U.S. The second is the response camp and what farmers should do to address it.

One of the most important first steps for response has been to raise general awareness of ASF so pork producers know what it is and how to report it. We are driving producers to consult our foreign animal disease preparation checklist which can be found on pork.org that outlines what they can do to prepare. That includes being registered with USDA, using their PremID and working with state officials should depopulation and disposal become necessary. The Secure Pork Supply Continuity of Business Plan (securepork.org) details procedures should ASF be identified in a herd. We also have related resources in pork.org.

Why should Illinois soybean farmers partner with pork producers on the issue?

Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes estimated losses from ASF could reach $8 billion for the pork industry in just one year. That figure does not include feed-related losses of $4 billion and $1.5 billion for corn and soybeans, respectively. This shows we are all in this together. We need to focus as an ag industry on what we can collectively do to address ASF.

Dr. Patrick Webb, DVM, is the National Pork Board (NPB) director of swine health programs. Webb is responsible for the Pork Checkoff efforts in animal identification, pre-harvest traceability and foreign and emerging animal disease planning, preparedness and response.

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