Canadian experts continue to act as global leaders in preventing the spread and managing the virus
By Jackie Clark
African swine fever (ASF) continues to be a global threat, with new or ongoing outbreaks in 25 countries: nine in Europe, 11 in Asia, and four in Africa, according to the Sept. 3 report from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). Since then, ASF infections have also been reported in Germany, Dr. Jaspinder Komal, Canada’s chief veterinary officer, told Farms.com.
This new outbreak may offer an economic advantage to Canada, however, the continued spread of the disease is still troubling, he said.
“Germany is one of the major suppliers of pork to countries in Asia,” Komal explained. “With the detection and now subsequent embargo on German pork, in one way it opens up opportunities for Canadian suppliers. On the other hand, the spread is ongoing in Europe. There’s always that danger of the disease coming into North America.”
Keeping ASF out of the continent is critical for herd health and business continuity. “The minute we have a detection, we’ll be in the same boat as Germany,” he added.
To take an international approach to the control of ASF, animal health experts have established Global Framework for the Progressive Control of Transboundary Animal Diseases (GF-TAD). This effort is jointly organized between OIE and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and facilitates coordination between regions to help control the virus.
Dr. Komal is the OIE delegate for Canada and president of the America’s Regional GF-TAD group. During a virtual meeting in June, the team of experts discussed the latest understanding of risk pathways and prevention activities, and developed recommendations for the Americas. The group is working with the OIE and FAO to share and implement those recommendations, Komal explained.
Canadian swine health experts are also improving ASF detection technology working on “harmonization of that testing all across the America’s region,” he added.
Within Canada, experts also “set up (an) executive management board that constitutes industry, federal and provincial senior leaders that meet on a bi-weekly basis to look at strategies to prevent and manage ASF. So, we actually have a very well-developed action plan,” Komal said. That plan includes guidelines for compartmentalization and zoning for pigs to help with business continuity in the case of an infection, and Canadian experts have been sharing those plans with other countries in Asia and Europe.
“Last month, we did a tabletop exercise with senior management in case we have a detection,” Komal said. Members of the board rehearsed decision-making processes, communications, and determined the roles of officials and industry groups in the case of an infection in Canada.
“This is not a food safety issue, this is an animal disease issue and an economic issue, so messaging will be very important,” he explained. The group continues to work on ASF preparedness, as the virus continues to have a detrimental impact worldwide.
“We don’t want people to be complacent, we want to keep (ASF) at the forefront” of everyone’s mind, Komal said. Canadian leaders will continue to focus resources on prevention.
Prevention is critical, because containment and management are proving challenging in Europe. “They have tried everything; it’s very difficult to control,” he said. “An ounce of prevention is better than a big chunk of spending on managing our herd and eradicating it. My focus is to continue to keep (ASF) out” of North America.
In addition to the work of swine health experts, producers play a critical role in ASF prevention through constant biosecurity vigilance, Komal said. This includes monitoring all personnel, equipment, and feed that enters pig barns.
Farmers should “ensure that all feed ingredients that are put in the rations for pigs are coming in from countries that are ASF-free or have a certain level of treatment,” he said. “I cannot emphasize enough the biosecurity on the farm level.”