Officials Urge Pork Producers to Prepare for Foreign Diseases

Jan 29, 2018

After two major livestock diseases ravaged Iowa’s poultry and hog industries, state and federal officials are asking farmers to prepare for future outbreaks. They are particularly concerned about viruses not yet found in North America.

Three illnesses they’re most worried about, foot and mouth disease, classical swine fever and African swine fever, wouldn’t sicken humans but could shut-down meat exports, which Iowa producers depend on for much of their income.

Jim Roth, a veterinarian and head of the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University, says farmers need to alert their vets as soon as animals get sick so they can be tested for the diseases. He says early confirmation of a foreign and highly contagious disease will be key.

“If we’re going to get it controlled we’re going to have to do it in the first very few weeks,” Roth says, “to get it under control before it gets away from us.”

Roth says once one of the diseases is identified here, export markets will close. Farmers, truckers and packing plants will have to stop moving animals, meat, manure, feed and other products. Animals in infected herds likely would be euthanized to prevent further spread.

Roth says he and others in the field have a good idea where these diseases are currently found, but that does little to help predict, much less prevent, their arrival here.

“It could come from any country that has it and it could come with people bringing in prohibited items, especially meat or meat products, it could come from animals coming in,” Roth says, “or just trade. All of those containers that come in from all over the world could potentially be contaminated.”

Roth says feed was implicated but never confirmed as the source of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus several years ago. That one wasn’t as serious because it didn’t shut down export markets. But if one of these other diseases arrives, consumers confidence in the food supply could be shaken and farmers would struggle to sell their remaining hogs. Together those would lead to a glut of cheap pork in this country.

Roth presented a Secure Pork Plan to producers attending the Iowa Pork Congress last week in Des Moines.