Much has been said and written about African Swine Fever, both from its endemic spread through Central Europe and Asia, to the economic impact it would have on the American swine industry and all of the agricultural economy.
To say that an outbreak of African swine fever in the US hog herd would be devastating is an understatement. If ASF were to hit the US hog herd, international markets would immediately close to US pork.
A study from Iowa State University examines two ASF scenarios hitting the country’s herd – one where the country is unable to eliminate the disease over a 10-year period, and the other operates in assuming the disease is under control and the country’s pork products can re-enter export markets within two years.
Under both scenarios, the study shows that US live hog prices would decline by 40-50%. In the two-year scenario, the industry faces a period of significant financial losses, but is back in export markets before a major downsizing begins. Pork industry revenue losses amount to $15 billion in the two-year scenario and just over $50 billion in the all-year scenario.
National job losses amount to 140,000 jobs after 10 years in the all-year scenario. There are almost no job losses after 10 years for the two-year scenario.
This study was published in 2020, and ASF was squarely on the radar of animal health issues in the United States – but still at a safe distance in Europe and Asia. That was until last year, when the deadly pig virus was detected in herds of pigs in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, too close to be comfortable.
It should be emphasized that African swine fever is not transmissible to humans and poses no risk to human health.
American hog producers have learned the importance of strict biosecurity measures to ward off most pathogens, and that diligence also pays off against African swine fever. Add the efforts of US Customs and Border Patrol agents to screen incoming travelers and the Beagle Brigade to detect illegal pork products, and so far ASF has been kept at bay.
But what happens when those efforts aren’t enough and U.S. pork producers need more than biosecurity to keep their herds healthy?
Help on the way?
A silver lining appeared in late April when scientists from the USDA Agricultural Research Service announced that a candidate vaccine against African swine fever had passed an important safety test required before it could receive final regulatory approval. .
An ARS press release says the vaccine is one step closer to commercial availability and that this test is an important step in a series of safety studies. These new results show that the USDA vaccine candidate does not regain its normal virulence after being injected into pigs. This ‘return to virulence’ test is necessary to ensure that the weakened form of the vaccine’s African swine fever virus does not revert to its original state.
“This is a critical step for the ASF vaccine candidate,” said ARS lead scientist Manuel Borca. “These safety studies bring this vaccine one step closer to market availability.”
Safety studies are necessary to obtain authorization for use in Vietnam and possibly in other countries around the world. Future commercial use will, however, be subject to approval by the animal health department of 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 for research and development of African swine fever vaccines since 2020. Development will continue once the vaccine candidate receives approval. Vietnamese regulatory approval.
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 pig-producing countries. There’s more at stake than a steady supply of chops and bacon. The livelihoods of American pork producers could be at stake.
Schulz, a senior Farm Progress writer, grew up on the family pig farm in southern Minnesota before a career in agricultural journalism, including National Hog Farmer.