Power washing

DES MOINES — African swine fever has been devastating to the pork industry, and U.S. pork producers need to know as much as they can about the hows and whys of the disease.

That was part of the message delivered during a seminar on ASF at the Iowa Pork Congress in Des Moines Jan. 23.

The best guess is ASF has led to the loss of about 65% of the swine herd in China, which is roughly 30% of the pigs in the world, said Todd Thurman of Swine Tech Consulting Services in Fort Worth, Texas. And those numbers don’t reflect what would happen if ASF were to spread to more countries.

Thurman said there are several reasons the disease struck in China and spread so quickly there. The first and most obvious is that China has a lot of pigs in a relatively small area. While the country is large, most of the human and pig populations are in a relatively small part of the nation.

In addition to pig density, there were issues with poor biosecurity, ineffective control procedures, improper animal disposal, and attempts to save the healthy pigs instead of eliminating entire herds.

It’s easy to see why that last item is a big one, Thurman added, because once the disease hit, pork prices in China skyrocketed, making any surviving animals very valuable.

“There was remarkable profitability for pigs that survived,” he said.

Prices shot up 150%, he said, and in some cases a small weaned pig might have sold for upwards of $250, a figure he called “amazing.”

The good news is that the disease appears to have bottomed out, at least for the moment. But the problem is almost certainly not gone.

“I’m kind of pessimistic,” he said of the situation in China, saying there is the opportunity for the disease to resurface in that country or in other countries around the globe.

Ilia Zubtsov is a Russian swine expert. He said ASF was found in Russia in 2007 but the industry is different in Russia, with more large production sites and less density of hog populations.

If there are lessons to be learned from the Russian experience with ASF, he said, they are that producers need to protect their own farms with proper disease control practices (such as shower-in-shower-out), that there needs to be a culture of transparency, a regimented practice for when the disease is discovered, and the meat has to immediately be taken out of the food chain.

Gary Flory, of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said dead animal disposal can be a big problem. Producers and public officials need to have a plan for how to deal quickly and efficiently with dead animals. Depopulation and disposal are connected and must be coordinated.

There are a variety of ways to dispose of the carcasses, Flory said, citing burning, burial or composting. But he said contamination is a serious issue and everyone needs to work together to deal with the obvious problem of carcass disposal and contamination.

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Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.