On the upside, the U.S. pork industry has never dealt with African swine fever (ASF) at home. However, that means there are many questions about how to best prepare, prevent and control the spread of the virus. That is where Pork Checkoff-funded research plays a key role.

Current Research Revises Other Production Biosecurity Measures

Since 2018, the National Pork Board (NPB) has funded more than 33 swine disease research projects totaling in excess of $3.6 million.

“Pork Checkoff research into FADs has picked up since 2019,” says Lisa Becton, DVM, Director of Swine Health for NPB.

ASF grabbed attention in 2007 when the disease broke out in Russia and the Georgia strain of the virus was identified (Georgia the country, not the U.S. state). By 2011, Pork Checkoff-funded ASF research ramped up. The research resulted in many of the biosecurity practices used on U.S. hog farms today.

“There’s a multiplier benefit to this research because some of the ASF research discoveries are useful with other animal diseases,” Becton adds. “It strengthens the basic approach to biosecurity whether you’re dealing with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) or porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV).” In fact, PEDV prompted research into virus survival and spread via feed, which has led to insights into ASF virus survivability and transmission.

Two Buckets: Prevention And Preparedness

NPB prevention and preparedness research priorities include:

  • Composting
    • Determining time, temperature and carbon resources needed to inactivate ASF and other FAD viruses.
  • Disinfectant
    • Investigating commonly used cleaning products as well as less commonly used ones on hog farms for their ability to kill the ASF virus.
  • Sanitation of Animal and Feed Trucks
    • Testing effects of cleaning protocols on tractor cabs and vehicle interiors to reduce transmission of viruses. Priorities also include developing truck wash/disinfectant sites that will work outside the normal system.
  • Feed Mill Biosecurity and Cleanup
  • Feed and Ingredient Import Gaps
  • Vaccine Support
    • Research to find novel methods for vaccine development and to evaluate what parts of the ASF virus genome to include in order to make an effective vaccine.
  • ASF Survivability in Manure
    • Studies focused on time, temperature and chemical mitigation to aid producers in handling manure from barns with a positive ASF case.   

Becton mentions other studies underway to address ASF virus surveillance. For example, both NPB and partner researchers are working to validate oral fluids to enhance early and quick on-farm detection. As of now, USDA has not approved oral fluids for ASF virus surveillance.

SHIC Reaches Beyond Borders for Answers

Created in 2015 and entirely funded by Pork Checkoff, Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) addresses swine health and emerging diseases, and ASF is certainly a focus. From 2019 through 2020, SHIC directed 15 ASF research projects for a total of $1.8 million. Of those, 10 projects began last summer in Vietnam.

“The focus of those projects is on diagnostics, prevention and biosecurity on farms – the pathways of virus entry – as well as management and control of ASF,” says Paul Sundberg, DVM, SHIC’s Executive Director. “The research is being done on farms that look exactly like U.S. hog farms, even the same genetics. By learning from a country that is experiencing the virus, we’ll already have those lessons in hand if we have an outbreak here.”

Most of the results will not be complete until later this year. However, some preliminary findings suggest that mice and rats are low-risk vectors of ASF virus transmission within or between farms.

NPB and SHIC are partnering to identify the highest priority studies and are working to maximize and expedite ASF research individually, as well as by teaming up to oversee joint projects in Canada, Vietnam and European countries.

Steps Producers Can Take Today

“We’ve learned a lot from ASF research and we’re still looking for actionable items for producers,” Becton says. “If ASF arrives tomorrow, those are two actions that will come into play immediately and can help you in the heat of the battle.”

Producers can take these easy steps to address the ASF threat today.

  1. Create a free AgView account; and
  2. Participate in the Secure Pork Supply Plan.