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North America cooperates to prevent ASF

North America cooperates to prevent ASF

Officials from the United States, Canada and Mexico continue to collaborate to keep the deadly swine virus out 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

African swine fever (ASF) was a key topic at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Tri-National Agricultural Accord last week.

Delegates from Canada, the United States and Mexico attended the 29th annual event virtually.

“The thing that was really positive with our trinational meeting with regard to ASF is that we have really good dialogue going between the three countries,” Blayne Arthur told She’s the secretary of Oklahoma’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, and NASDA’s animal agriculture committee chair. She moderated a breakout session about ASF at the meeting.

Officials from all three nations “understand the potential impact … of ASF and, really, any foreign animal disease to our livestock industries,” she said.

Top veterinary representatives from each country discussed central components of ASF prevention and preparedness. Dr. Jack Shere, associate administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and former USDA chief veterinary officer (CVO), represented the United States. He worked with Dr. Jaspinder Komal, CVO of Canada, and Dr. Juan Gay Gutierrez, CVO for Mexico.

Those three officials “collaborate frequently because the disease doesn’t know any boundaries, as far as moving from one country to a another. So, we must have that continual dialogue and communication,” Arthur explained. These officials seek to keep ASF out of North America “but then also to be as prepared as possible to respond if necessary.”

Officials across North America have a strong focus on prevention and preparedness.

“We would love to never have to deal with (ASF) in North America and it takes that collaboration regarding all of our borders to do everything that we possibly can from a prevention standpoint,” Arthur explained. Swine industry experts also work with “individual producers on tightening biosecurity measures and ensuring everyone makes good decisions in their individual operations.”

However, if an outbreak occurred in North America, “all of the countries are preparing to respond to foreign animal diseases because they are so devastating to the livestock industry,” she added.

Industry experts conduct tabletop exercises to test responses and check on logistics of leadership, communications, and physical resources that would be required to respond to ASF or other diseases.

“A lot of those decisions must be made ahead of time so that everyone knows their roles and how they will coordinate together,” Arthur explained.

Recently, industry leaders and stakeholders have sought possible solutions to carcass disposal in the event of a significant disease outbreak, she added.

American poultry producers had experiences with avian influenza outbreaks, but chickens and turkeys are much smaller to dispose of than hogs, Arthur said. Industry experts are investigating options for “carcass disposal and identifying locations and the best methods. (These experts are also) coordinating with the American Veterinary Medical Association,” she added.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, “we’ve had to do some depopulation here in the U.S. because of supply chain issues. We’ve learned a lot regarding depop specifically in swine,” she explained. Now, government officials are conducting after action reviews to see how lessons learned could contribute to depopulation plans in the case of a deadly ASF outbreak.

So far, North American governments and producers have successfully kept ASF out of the continent.  

“We always appreciate the collaboration we have with both Canada and Mexico,” Arthur said.

That “collaboration and communication is a huge piece, I believe, of what we’ve been able to do to prevent ASF from coming here,” she added. The other key aspect is communication with farmers themselves.

“The government can do all the planning and coordination and have all these tabletops and worst-case scenarios, but we really must have cooperation from individual producers,” she explained. “I think they’re very aware of how ASF has affected China. … Producers here realize how that (disease) could impact them.”

As a result, producers remain vigilant about biosecurity.

Continued success in preventing an ASF outbreak in North America requires “collaboration between government officials but also between producers themselves and producer groups” to share resources and solutions that make sense from policy and practical standpoints, Arthur said.

ronniechua\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo

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