Greg Ibach

USDA Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach speaks about African swine fever during the National Pork Industry Forum on March 6 in Kansas City, Mo. 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At the National Pork Industry Forum here, Greg Ibach, USDA Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, outlined the government’s efforts to prevent African swine fever from reaching the U.S. and the plan should the disease spread here.

The plan — a national approach — involves temporarily stopping hog movement, developing a vaccine and establishing standards for carcass removal.

Ibach was a featured speaker March 6 at the annual pork forum. He spoke about a variety of issues, but African swine fever response was the primary one. He said the pork industry has been involved in prevention and response efforts.

“I’m very proud of the working relationship that we’ve had with the pork industry, the Pork Board and NPPC (National Pork Producers Council) on African swine fever,” Ibach said.

Before outlining the response plan, Ibach stressed that the plans do not mean the department feels African swine fever in the U.S. is inevitable.

“The No. 1 priority is keeping it out of the U.S.,” he said. “… We’re making these announcements to be the best prepared, the best planned, but our No. 1 goal is to keep it out of the U.S.”

Ibach said he is optimistic this is still possible, pointing to success in keeping foot and mouth disease out of the country for nearly 100 years.

The department has partnered with U.S. customs and border protection authorities in their efforts to keep the disease from reaching the country.

Should African swine fever be detected in the U.S., Ibach said early detection and quick response are crucial.

“We want to stop it in its tracks and have as small a footprint as possible,” he said.

Should an outbreak occur, Ibach said the USDA would immediately declare it an “extraordinary emergency,” which would provide for a coordinated national effort instead of state-by-state. He said this declaration releases emergency funding, increases coordination and would “give us a leg up on day one.”

He said there would also be a 72-hour standstill on hog movement to allow time for trace-back to identify the source of an outbreak.

“We know that has consequences for the pork industry,” Ibach said. “We would reevaluate after 72 hours, working closely with the pork industry.”

The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service continues efforts to develop a vaccine.

“We’re working with ARS on vaccine candidates,” Ibach said. “… We need to keep moving vaccine opportunities forward as quickly as possible.”

He added it takes time to identify a successful candidate and replicate it in larger trials.

“We want to make sure it does more good than harm in the pork industry,” Ibach said.

But Ibach says a commercial African swine fever vaccine is probably not coming soon, even if ARS has identified a candidate vaccine.

“Even at the most optimistic, we’re probably two years from having a vaccine, and probably longer,” he said.

Other response efforts include making sure good testing is available.

“We’re partnering with our friends in Canada to make sure we have the ability to do an oral test, or rope test,” Ibach said. “We want to make sure we have a test that is reliable and gives us the right results and information we want.”

Ibach later added that the U.S. was working with Mexico as well, taking a “North American approach” to preparing an African swine fever response. He also said the USDA has had discussions with South American countries to “start more of a Western Hemisphere philosophy.”

Other aspects the department is working on are indemnification of animals and disposal of carcasses.

“We’re working with the industry to develop an indemnification model that makes sense,” Ibach said.

The USDA and the industry have learned from past disease outbreaks, including avian influenza. Part of that includes disposing of carcasses on-site as much as possible, while still avoiding environmental concerns.

“We know it’s not a one-size-fits-all, but we want to work with individual operations to develop plans,” Ibach said.

He added in a press conference after the speech that the USDA has decided to recognize the American Veterinary Medical Association methods for depopulation as acceptable. The goal will also be to minimize animals being moved to disposal sites away from where they are raised, to slow the spread of the disease.

“We know there may be individual local challenges,” Ibach said.

As for keeping the disease out, Ibach said the world sees the U.S. as “an expert and standard bearer” for the industry, and many countries will follow policies set by the U.S.

Ibach also credited the administration’s willingness to provide more K-9 units and other resources to monitor what is coming into the country.

“We have never had the intent to ramp up border security like we have today,” he said.

Even with the focus on a national response, Ibach said the USDA will work closely with states and state veterinarians to deal with the details of the response.

“They’re still our front-line partner,” he said.

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.