OMAHA (DTN) -- As African swine fever continues to spread across the world -- most recently showing up in South Africa -- the National Pork Producers Council on Wednesday took the rare step of canceling the industry's World Pork Expo scheduled for June 5-7 in Des Moines, Iowa.
The World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, reported on Wednesday that a farm in the Ditsobotla Local Municipality in South Africa lost 32 of 36 hogs to the disease that currently has no animal vaccine.
African swine fever (ASF) is a serious viral disease that can cause fever, internal bleeding and high death rates in pigs. According to the World Organization for Animal Health, the disease can be spread by live or dead, domestic or wild pigs, as well via pork products such as contaminated feed and objects including shoes, clothes and vehicles. The disease cannot infect humans, and is not considered a food safety risk.
So far, there have been no cases of the disease reported in the United States.
The National Pork Producers Council Board of Directors on Wednesday made the decision to cancel the World Pork Expo "out of an abundance of caution," according to a news release.
The NPPC said it made the decision because, of the 20,000 visitors to the three-day event, many include exhibitors from regions where African swine fever is present.
"While an evaluation by veterinarians and other third-party experts concluded negligible risk associated with holding the event, we have decided to exercise extreme caution," David Herring, NPPC president and a producer from Lillington, North Carolina, said in a statement.
"The health of the U.S. swine herd is paramount. The livelihoods of our producers depend on it. Prevention is our only defense against ASF and NPPC will continue to do all it can to prevent its spread to the United States."
The decision comes at a time when more than 100 U.S. pork producers are in Washington, D.C., meeting with members of Congress. Part of the discussion involves asking lawmakers to fund 600 new U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture inspectors to step up defenses against the virus.
Herring said, because U.S. farmers depend heavily on the export market, the industry cannot take chances with the virus.
"An ASF outbreak would immediately close our export markets at a time when we are already facing serious trade headwinds," he said. "The retaliatory tariffs we currently face in some of our largest export markets due to trade disputes are among the factors that prompted a conservative decision regarding World Pork Expo. U.S. pork producers are already operating in very challenging financial conditions."
The presence of the disease in China's herd, Herring said, takes the threat to "an entirely new level."
DTN Analyst Rick Kment said African swine fever has been a "significant mover" in the market in the past few months.
"There is still very limited accurate data on the impact of the market and how it has affected the Chinese pork industry," he said. "The expectation is that the need for China to buy pork through the upcoming year is going to significantly increase. This has sparked emotional buying patterns in the hog complex, with prices surging over $25 per hundredweight in the last two months."
Between March 13 and March 28, most animal losses from the disease occurred in Asia, according to an OIE report.
Of the 2,963 losses covering the time period of the report, 2,876 occurred in Vietnam. OIE said, as of the most recent report, there was a total of 1,351 ongoing outbreaks and 265 new outbreaks. So far, more than 120 cases of African swine fever have been documented in China.
In addition, there are ongoing outbreaks reported in eastern Europe on farms, in backyards and among wild boar, according to OIE.
Earlier this year, the Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services in Zimbabwe, investigated and confirmed a report of African swine fever that killed 284 animals in free-range pigs kept by smallholder village farmers in a communal area. According to a March 3 update, another 128 animals died. As of March 28, no additional deaths were reported in Zimbabwe.
According to a report from the OIE, the free-range herd has been and remains in quarantine.
"Disease surveillance currently on-going to determine the extent of spread of infection," according to an OIE report. "Farmers are being instructed to confine their pigs in pigsties and report all ill or dead animals to their local division of veterinary services offices."
USDA, PORK INDUSTRY TAKING PRECAUTIONS
In March, USDA-trained dogs played a role in the seizure of about 1 million pounds of pork smuggled from China.
USDA said it is working with Customs and Border Patrol to expand passenger baggage screening, in addition to expanding arrival screenings, including checking cargo for illegal pork and pork products.
Steve Rommereim, president of the National Pork Board and a pig farmer from Alcester, South Dakota, said it was the right decision to cancel the expo.
"But when it comes to the ongoing spread of African swine fever in Asia and Europe, caution must come first," he said. "We acknowledge the relatively low risk that World Pork Expo may have posed to the introduction of African swine fever to the U.S. But any risk needs to be managed -- and that is our purpose at the National Pork Board."
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN
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