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Canada remains vigilant to prevent ASF

Canada remains vigilant to prevent ASF

CFIA is working with producers, border services, and counterparts in the U.S. and Mexico to keep ASF out of North America 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

While much of the world has been fixated on the coronavirus, those involved in the swine industry are also busy tracking another virus. African swine fever (ASF) which doesn’t pose a risk to human health, still presents a considerable threat to the global swine herd. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has been working continuously on prevention and preparedness for an ASF outbreak.

“The spread has been ongoing and new countries are coming up, and not a lot of countries have recovered,” Dr. Jaspinder Komal, the chief veterinary officer for Canada, told “North America continues to be free (of ASF) for now.”

However, 23 countries across Europe, Asia and Africa have reported new or ongoing outbreaks to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), with 7,200 outbreaks ongoing worldwide according to their most recent biweekly report.

Some countries also have infections that are not yet reported to the OIE.  “The most recent infections have been in India,” Komal said.

So far, Czech Republic is the only county that has had infections and been able to eradicate the disease, he added.  

China has been an ongoing hot spot for the disease.

Industry leaders in China “have tried to eradicate the problem because they are very high consumers of pork products,” Komal explained. “They are trying to repopulate their farms with live pig imports from other countries, including Canada. But I’ve heard that infections keep breaking in these farms so they’re not seeing much success.”

In Canada and the rest of North America, efforts are ongoing to prevent the introduction of ASF to the region, and plans are in place in case of an outbreak. A forum held in April and May 2019 focused on in-house biosecurity, preparedness and planning, coordinated risk communication, and business continuity, Komal explained. Officials continue to check in on the ASF plans and strategies on a biweekly basis.

“We have taken a lot of measures for business continuity from a trade perspective, especially signing a zoning agreement with the U.S.” he said.

Canada established a similar zoning agreement with the European Union to protect pork exports in the case of an ASF outbreak.

“If we have an ASF outbreak in Canada, we’re pretty confident that they will respect the zoning arrangement and I think we should be able to export,” Komal said. “We can zone the infected areas and (assure) our trading partners that they can continue to trade.”

Canadian officials have also worked with border services, airlines and travel agencies “to educate people that there’s a risk of bringing contaminated products, or that if you visited infected countries you may be bringing the virus and how to stop that,” he added.

CFIA has also been “working with our producers to make sure that they have the biosecurity and they avoid contact with wild pigs or, if they have foreign workers on their farm, making sure they follow the guidelines,” Komal said. Producers know that no one should be bringing meat products into the farm or feeding them to pigs.

Through a risk assessment, CFIA officials identified feed ingredients imported from infected areas as a potential vector for virus transfer, so industry experts worked to “create secondary zones around the six ports in Canada so that the feed is quarantined for a certain period of time to ensure that it is not contaminated before it is distributed,” Komal said.

The prevention and preparedness efforts in Canada are mirrored in the U.S. and Mexico.

“At the North American level, we’ve been working with the U.S. and Mexico to make sure that we’re taking equal measures for prevention in all three countries, and making sure that we’re prepared,” Komal said.

“Everybody has to play a role,” he said. “We’ve created an executive management board of the senior leaders of the federal and provincial (government organizations) and the industry to make sure that the planning … is moving forward … even average citizens need to understand because this is a huge industry for us. We export close to $4 billion of pork (annually) to other countries, so it’s an economic issue, it’s a food security issue.”

In addition to efforts to prevent and prepare for an outbreak, CFIA has been working with Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization researchers on vaccine development, and collaborating on rapid-detection techniques.

Testing techniques are moving toward being ready for commercialization, however “we’re far from commercializing a vaccine at this point in time,” Komal said. ASF “is a DNA virus so it’s really difficult to find a proper vaccine due to the size of the virus and then to ensure what the antigenic properties are to get the immune response to the vaccine,” and ensure that the vaccine is safe.

Scientists will also need an appropriate cell line for commercial production of a vaccine, another obstacle that needs to be overcome, he added. Researchers use cell lines to rapidly produce stable viral vaccines.

Currently, the risk of ASF coming to North America has decreased due to the international travel restrictions put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, however, we must remain vigilant, Komal said.  Border control officers are still screening essential travellers and import restrictions are in place for infected areas.

“The risk will continue to increase,” until we have a vaccine, as more countries report cases, and international travel reopens.

All countries should have “good methods in place through zoning and controlling the infected area, then destroying all the pigs in that area, cleaning and disinfection, and then after depopulation, waiting for a certain period of time, re-testing the area to make sure there’s no virus,” Komal explained. “I think if countries keep repopulating these farms, they’ll continue to see infections in new herds.”

Producers in Canada “have done a great job so far. We’ll continue to work with them to ensure that they are keeping those biosecurity practices on the farm, and keeping those pigs safe,” he added. “Because if we have an infection, not only will it have an effect on export economics and Canadian consumers, but also on pig producers and owners. From a social perspective, it may have a huge mental effect if we start destroying a lot of infected pigs, and families can be devastated. So, we are working from all angles on this.” 

agnormark\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo

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