It’s a major fear many countries have—African swine fever (ASF) entering into a country’s borders through imported pork products.
Australia is reporting the first instances of products with the ASF virus being smuggled into their borders. The Australian Department of Agriculture says they found the ASF virus in five of 152 samples analyzed by the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong.
The Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) reports that in addition to the findings in Australia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have reported the presence of ASF in confiscated products at ports of entry since last August.
Just this week, China reported another case of ASF in the Ningxia region, marking the 25th region/province in that country to be dealing with the disease spread.
SHIC says in communication with USDA-APHIS:
"The USDA takes the ASF threat seriously. We have existing mitigation measures in place to prevent the introduction of the disease through imports, as well as measures in place and in development to quickly respond to a finding of ASF in the United States.
Preventing the introduction of ASF through imported pork and pork products is one such mitigation. In August 2018, the USDA communicated with our partners at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) regarding the importance of heightened awareness of ASF and the potential risks associated with swine products carried by travelers. USDA requested that CBP pay close attention to passenger baggage from ASF-affected countries.
CBP reports that their personnel maintain a high degree of vigilance to mitigate the risk of ASF entry into the country through pork and pork products. They also report that they are closely analyzing data and looking for any changes in seizure rates of swine products; particularly within the past couple of months. Increases in inspections (both passengers and express consignment cargo) are occurring; however, rates of swine product interdictions are remaining relatively flat. This is actually good news as it suggests that CBP was operating with high efficiency prior to the increased emphasis on swine/animal product vigilance. We will continue to encourage the high focus on swine and animal products and will continue to monitor for any upticks.
USDA does not currently have a protocol for testing seized pork products for ASF. We consider all seized product to be potentially contaminated and handle and dispose of such materials as contaminated. Existing mitigation measures have successfully prevented the introduction to date of numerous foreign animal disease affecting swine such as African swine fever, classical swine fever, and foot-and-mouth disease."
The High Probability of ASF in the U.S.
SHIC also points to a recently published scientific study (Jurado et al, 2018) that estimated a relatively high risk of introduction of ASF into the U.S. through prohibited swine products carried by air passengers.
Those estimates suggested that, on average, certainly (cumulative probability = 1) there would be an introduction of ASF into pigs in the U.S. through prohibited swine products carried by air passengers once every 16 years, with a wide 95% confidence interval corresponding to between five and 142 years.
Since the data were initially analyzed, ASF has expanded severely into Western Europe and China, and probably has resulted in a modification of the estimates of risk associated to this pathway of entry. With co-funding by SHIC and the National Pork Board, the University of Minnesota is working on an update of that assessment, measuring how the recent changes in the distribution of ASF has increased this risk.