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Experts list ASF research priorities

Experts list ASF research priorities

Swine experts across Canada collaborated to establish focus areas for research on African swine fever 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

To date, African swine fever (ASF) has not been detected in North America, however 8,069 outbreaks are currently ongoing across 24 counties in Africa, Europe and Asia according to the World Organization for Animal Health’s most recent ASF report.

However, experts are still hard at work on preparedness and prevention efforts in Canada.

Dr. Andrew Van Kessel, science advisory board chair of Swine Innovation Porc (SIP), presented a summary of research priorities for ASF in Canada at an ASF webinar hosted by SIP on Jan. 6.

A team of experts, including Dr. Egan Brockhoff, a veterinarian with the Canadian Pork Council, Dr. Alfonso Valvijo and Dr. Aruna Ambagala from the National Centre Foreign Animal Disease, Dr. Volker Gerdts, director and CEO of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, and Dr. Paul Sundberg, executive director of the Swine Health Information Center, came together to determine important focus points for researchers tackling the ASF issue.  

“We were able to identify six major subject areas containing ASF research priorities,” Van Kessel said.

  1. Surveillance and animal health

“Not surprisingly, surveillance and animal health was an area which contained a large number of research priorities. Examples would include the development of rapid ASF diagnostic tests, including pen side tests,” Van Kessel explained. Other sub-priorities include sampling protocols for oral fluids and meat, anti-viral use to reduce transmission, and strategies to mitigate transfer through feed.

  1. Biosecurity

In terms of biosecurity, “primarily we were looking at the issue of wild pigs,” he said. Eradiacation would be ideal, otherwise the industry will need to “manage wild pigs as a potential reservoir for ASF (which is) a significant problem requiring some research focus.”

  1. Destruction and disposal

Experts are working to determine appropriate methodology for mass euthanasia and deadstock disposal, should that be required, Van Kessel explained.

  1. Mental health

“From a research perspective is there work that can be done to identify the most vulnerable participants?” Van Kessel asked. Researchers can evaluate the unique context of the swine industry to predict and mitigate mental health challenges.

  1. Economic impact

Experts may be able to predict or prevent drastic economic losses, Van Kessel explained.

Researchers can conduct “an examination of similar cases where we saw an abrupt end to business activity in the livestock industry,” he said. “If we were to study those cases would we identify best practices for preserving that industry and to facilitate its rapid return to economic sustainability?”

  1. Knowledge transfer

Along with communicating biosecurity and other messaging to the commercial industry, “are we able to engage our small-scale producers and work collaboratively ... to protect the Canadian swine industry?” Van Kessel asked.

One challenge of addressing these ASF research priorities is locating funding. Most funding through ongoing swine cluster research has been committed to ongoing projects through 2023, Van Kessel explained.

“This ongoing commitment does provide us with some challenge in terms of identifying funds to support an emerging issue like ASF,” he said. However, SIP has co-funded projects having to do with testing oral fluids to detect ASF, as well as a smallholder swine producer survey.

“We do have a current call out for research project ideas,” he added.

Swine Innovation Porc is preparing an application to the Canadian Agricultural Strategic Priorities Program. To be a part of the application, not-for-profit organizations can submit ideas addressing the identified research priorities to SIP until Feb. 16, 2021.

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