Recent African swine fever detections in Europe are worrisome, but disease shouldn’t be as devastating there as it has been in China, economist Arlan Suderman says
New cases of African swine fever (ASF) in domestic pigs in Europe are cause for great concern, but the disease should not be as devastating to the European pork industry as it has been to date in China.
ASF situation in China
No country has been harder hit by ASF than the world’s largest pork producer, China. A recent Rabobank report indicated that China has already lost about 40% of its hog population, with expectations of losses at 50% by the end of 2019.
However, the structure of the pig industry in China is “the perfect scenario for introducing the disease and making it impossible to stop,” Suderman said.
One problem is that the Chinese government told producers that, if they suspect ASF has reached their farms, they should contact their local government to come to their farms and test for the disease. But Suderman questions the accuracy of the test results.
“Local authorities will come out and test. If they test positive, then that local government must pay you for your hogs so they can cull that herd to stop the spread,” Suderman said.
“Local authorities don’t have enough money, so they come out and test, and lo and behold, the tests come out negative. So, the farmer, rather than have all the hogs die, takes the rest of the hogs to market.”
Complicating matters is that most of China’s hog production is in the northeastern part of the country, while most packing plants are located in the south, where most of the human population is.
“They will travel 1,400-1,500 miles, spreading the disease the whole way,” he said.
ASF in Europe
Europe is one of China’s primary sources for pork, with China’s dependence on pork being greater now that China’s herd has been reduced due to ASF.
Most ASF detections in Europe and Russia have been in wild boars, Suderman said, but the recent confirmation of ASF in domestic pigs in Romania and other European countries “has really raised the alert flag,” and is a “real concern for the industry.”
Also submitting recent reports of ASF detections in domestic pigs to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) are Serbia, Moldova, Ukraine and Slovakia.
However, as serious as it sounds, Suderman indicated he did not expect the ASF situation to claim as high a percentage of the hog herds in Europe – or elsewhere – as it has in China.
“The structure for the rest of the world makes it a little easier to manage. I don’t want to make it sound easy by any means, but easier to manage,” Suderman said.
The United States and African swine fever
The disease has not reached the United States or Canada, but in the case that it would, Suderman said the U.S. pig industry will still face serious challenges, but it should at least be better equipped to handle the situation than China has.
“The hog industry in the United States no longer talks about if we can keep it out of the United States, but how long can we keep it out of the United States, and can we get our vaccine developed in time,” Suderman said. “We will be able to regionalize it better than China, certainly, but it will be a big problem for us.”
View our continuing coverage of the African swine fever outbreak.