U.S. agricultural officials announced Thursday steps to keep African swine fever, a highly contagious disease deadly for pigs, out of the country, as it could obliterate one of Iowa’s key exports.
There have been 87 outbreaks of the disease across eight countries in Asia and Europe. Though African swine fever has not hit the United States, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said the increasing threat — in addition to the ongoing trade war with China — has farmers even more worried.
“If you shut down every export market, that would have an immediate impact on our producers and then a ripple effect to corn and soybean farmers, which are feed suppliers to the industry,” Naig said.
Brigades of beagles are being trained to check cargo and sniff out infected pork products at seaports and airports to keep the disease from coming ashore.
“We receive all kinds of feed ingredients from China,” Naig said. “The virus could be present in those products as well.”
Jamee Eggers, with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, said that, if the disease hits U.S. agriculture, the result would be “devastating,” especially in Iowa, where there are 23 million pigs.
Eggers said the Iowa Pork Producers Association advises farmers to take preventative measures by monitoring the disease, recognizing early signs of the disease and spreading the news.
African swine fever cannot harm humans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and veterinarians are planning a state response.
“You have to live in that world, expecting it could happen and stay vigilant,” Naig said.
Researchers are working to develop a vaccine against the African swine fever. One study estimates that, if the disease gets into the United States, it could cost the economy more than $16 billion.