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‘Beagle Brigade’ sniffs out African Swine Fever and other animal health threats

Photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Control

African Swine Fever (ASF) has been on the move this year.

Originally endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa, the virus has caused a heightened number of outbreaks in and around China this year, moving through several Eastern European countries and eventually hitting Western Europe for the first time.

Because the virus spreads like wildfire among pigs and wild boars, and has no cure or vaccine, it has enormous economic implications for the countries it hits. Naturally, authorities in the countries ASF hasn’t hit yet are working hard to keep the disease out.

In come the beagles.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) trains the “Beagle Brigade” at its National Detector Dog Training Center in Georgia. The brigade is made up of teams of detector dogs and their handlers, who are responsible for sniffing out prohibited agricultural products in, for example, airplane luggage. These products can carry ASF and other foreign pests and diseases.

“ASF is a devastating, deadly disease affecting all kinds of pigs, both domestic and wild — and keeping our pork industry safe is a top priority,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

ASF can remain in its environment for long periods of time, including in cooked or cured pork from infected pigs. In one recent case, a USDA-trained detector dog named Hardy intercepted a roasted pig head in traveler baggage from Ecuador.

“The quick work of a beagle and the Customs and Border Protection staff prevented a potential animal health issue and further highlighted the need to be vigilant in safeguarding the U.S. against foreign animal diseases,” said Perdue.

USDA’s plan for preventing ASF from entering the country includes, in addition to detector dogs:

  • Promoting stringent farm biosecurity practices
  • Restricting pork-related imports from affected countries
  • Working with Customs and Border Control to improve screening vigilance for products arriving from affected countries

Signs of ASF, which does not affect humans, include high fever, decreased appetite, weakness, blotchiness and lesions in the skin, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing and difficulty breathing. The World Organization for Animal Health reports that more than 119,000 pigs have died due to ASF in 2018 so far.

Neogen offers products that can play an essential role in any biosecurity program to keep animals and people safe, including disinfectants, cleaners, personal protective equipment and more.

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