African swine fever update: one million pounds of pork seized; vaccine research takes step forward

With the ongoing Asian and Eastern European outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF), a disease that is not known to harm humans but is deadly to pigs, countries not already touched by ASF virus have one goal: keep it out.

U.S. Custom and Border Protection officials may have prevented possible introduction of the virus to the U.S. food supply with last week’s seizure of about one million pounds of smuggled pork products from China, a country severely impacted by ASF outbreaks. It’s the largest seizure of agricultural products to ever happen in the U.S.

“Agriculture specialists made a critical interception of these prohibited animal products, and stopped them from entering the U.S. before they could potentially cause grave damage,” said Troy Miller, a director of field operations for Customs. ASF would have disastrous effects if introduced to the U.S. pork supply, as there is no vaccine. The pork industry would face enormous economic costs — an estimated $16.5 billion, collectively.

The seizure involved over 100 Customs employees, as well as detector dogs, like the “Beagle Brigade” canine named Hardy who made headlines last year after sniffing out a roasted pig head smuggled from Ecuador.

While it’s unknown if any of the seized products were contaminated with ASF virus, pork products have been identified as a possible vehicle for bringing it to new countries. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been ramping up efforts to educate pork producers on how to safeguard their farms, should the virus show up within the borders. The agency released new biosecurity videos, information pages and infographics about risk pathways, signs and symptoms and tips for travelers visiting ASF-touched areas.

In Europe

Meanwhile, in Spain, a team of researchers from Madrid have made a discovery that might be able to limit the spread of ASF virus in wild boars, which can spread diseases widely across Europe and Asia.

The team identified a natural ASF isolate that, when administered orally, can induce a high protection of more than 92%.

“With no vaccine against ASF virus tested in wild boars, this experiment represents a considerable progress for the control of ASF infection in the wild cycle,” said Jose Sánchez Vizcaíno, a World Organization of Animal Health laboratory director who led the study.

The research may lead to a vaccine that could be given to wild boars through bait, helping to control the spread of ASF and other pig diseases.

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