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Foreign Animal Disease: Preparing for the Worst

07:35AM Feb 05, 2019

One clinical sign of African swine fever is when pigs express an even stronger desire to lie down and huddle or pile with other affected pigs. Learn the signs. .( SecurePork.Org )

By Dr. Brent Pepin, DVM, Pipestone Veterinary Service

Everyone who works with pigs is likely aware of the spread of African Swine Fever (ASF) across Europe and Asia. This seemly unstoppable sweeping of disease is a concern for swine farmers worldwide. Even with a vast ocean separating North America, it only takes one failure in biosecurity for ASF to reach our soil. The most significant risks for spread include contaminated feed ingredients, feral pigs and humans. Humans can spread the disease as fomites (direct contact or through contaminated vehicles/equipment) or through the movement of contaminated pork products. ASF can survive in affected pork products from a few months to indefinitely depending on the processing and preservation methods used. Although ASF poses no threat to human health, it can be devastating to pig populations. So the question becomes – what can we do to prepare our farms for potential foreign animal disease? 

Upon diagnosis of a Foreign Animal Disease (FAD), state officials will work to establish a control area around the infected site. This control area will encompass a geographical space large enough to contain disease spread with strict control of animal movements. If a farm in the proximity of yours becomes infected, you likely will be placed in a disease control area by officials. It is expected all animal movements in this control area will be stopped until officials establish the at-risk farms. Moving animals between sites or to market in this area will then only be allowed on a permit basis from Regulatory Officials. While in this control area, you will have to provide proof that you took additional steps to protect your farm to be able to move pigs to and from your site. These extra steps may include regular testing of your pigs, increased documentation of animal, equipment, and people movements, and increase requirements for biosecurity.

The place to start for information on preparing your farm is talking to your veterinarian and visiting the Secure Pork Supply site. The secure pork website is a collaboration effort between the USDA, Pork Checkoff, government officials, Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota. Here the site provides the “Secure Pork Plan” which outlines the expectations and control strategy for producers, veterinarians, and packers if a FAD like ASF enters the U.S. Your veterinarian will be the best source for advice specific to your farm for preparation. When reading the Secure Pork Supply plan, it is essential to understand that it acts only as a guideline and if a FAD break does occur, Regulatory officials can change the strategy at any time to best fit the situation.

In the meantime, here are steps you can take now to prepare your farm.

1.    Apply or update your Premise ID Number (PIN).
If you have not applied for a PIN for each of your livestock sites, now is the time. A valid PIN is currently used for PQA site assessments and by many packers for animal traceability. In a severe disease outbreak, accurate PINs become crucial as it will be used for requesting and tracking animal movements and for linking diagnostic results. Not having a correct PIN could result in delays or denial for moving your animals and increase the difficulty of stopping disease spread.

If you already have a PIN, make sure its linked to a valid address or GPS coordinates for the actual location of animals. Also, keep in mind that sites that are a ¼ mile apart need different PINs. Other livestock animals also utilize PINs (USDA official 840 tags for cattle) so make sure all your livestock sites are registered. A FAD like foot and mouth disease can affect multiple species so do not overlook your sites with non-swine livestock. To apply or validate your PIN you must contact your state animal health official or go to your state’s animal health website. Pork Checkoff provides information on how to register in your state. 

2.    Develop an enhanced biosecurity plan.
As part of the PQA site assessment and the Common Swine Audit, it is highly encouraged for each farm to have a site-specific written biosecurity plan. A biosecurity plan should be part of the Standard Operating Procedures (written instructions for farm protocols) for your farm. This plan should have instructions for rodent control, disinfection of barns between groups, disinfecting equipment, how delivery trucks come on the site, how workers and visitors should enter buildings and rooms, how to dispose of dead animals, manure management, and anything else relevant to keeping disease out of your barns. 

An “enhanced biosecurity plan” is for when FAD risk is high and contains much stricter site biosecurity practices. This “enhanced” plan only goes into effect if a FAD is diagnosed near your site. The secure pork website provides a template for developing this enhanced plan specific for your site. For assistance in developing a standard biosecurity plan and an enhanced biosecurity plan, please contact your veterinarian.

The Secure Pork Supply site encourages producers to design a premise map as part of their enhanced biosecurity plan. This map provides a visual layout of the farm. The full list of items to mark on a premise map is available on securepork.org, but at a minimum to start preparing your map should include a designated Perimeter Buffer Area (PBA) and a planned Line of Separation (LOS) for where the animals are. The PBA outlines the space where only farm personnel, staff and necessary visitors are allowed to enter. The LOS demarks the barrier from the PBA to the area where animals housed; this barrier can be a simple as the walls of the building. A change of clothes and boots should occur at the LOS before contact with the animals. On the map, designate locations where people enter the building and where load outs/ins occur.

By creating this map, you will begin thinking about what will have to be done to help prevent a FAD from infecting your animals. It will also be helpful to place GPS coordinates and the site address on the map for easy reference. Find instructions on how to design a map at securepork.org (see some examples below).

SecurePork Examples

3.    Keep visitor logs and movement records.
If a FAD breaks, officials may request documentation of all vehicle and human traffic to the site including feed delivery and a log of anybody who had contact with the pigs. Beginning to record this information before a break may expedite your ease in getting a movement permit within in a control area, and these will likely be required for tracking after a break occurs.

Visitor logs are great tools for tracking people moving to and from a farm and are easy to accomplish. Templates can found in PQA Plus books or printed from the securepork.org. Visitor logs help keep unnecessary foot traffic out of your farm and, therefore, reduce potential disease spread. These logs can also assist in tracking sources of contamination if there is an abnormal disease break in the barn. 

Inside FAD control areas, visitor logs will be vital to help prove disease exposure risk is at a minimum. Tracking of animal movements will also become necessary and should include the PINs of the origin and the destination for pigs, date, number of animals, any relevant group/individual ID’s, and purpose of the movement.  Find examples of animal movement, truck logs, and visitor logs at securepork.org. At the very least, be thinking of ways to track animal and truck movements on your farm should the requirement be made. 

4.    Observe and monitor. 
The most important thing all individuals involved in the swine industry can do is be observant. We should all educate ourselves on what FADs look like clinically. Report anything suspicious to your veterinarian and, if necessary, the state health official. It’s better to be overly cautious than to let a potential FAD spread any further. Find resources on ASF and other FADs at pork.org and securepork.org.

Records for daily observations of the pigs is highly encouraged and will help provide evidence of no FAD infection. PQA site assessment and the Common Swine Audit also request that there be documentation that someone had eyes on the pigs at least once a day. Keeping daily observation records will create the habit of observing your pigs for any changes and help you stay ahead of all disease breaks, not just FADs.

5.    Consider the financial equation. 
Any indemnity payments the USDA APHIS grants regarding a FAD outbreak will require business owners to have a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number and current registration with the System for Award Management (SAM) database. These numbers are for the business entity and not for each site. 

We are all in this together. A FAD outbreak will affect farmers nationwide and slow our export channels. Let’s all be diligent in our animal care and disease protection. Visit the securepork.org site, start conversations with your veterinarian and start thinking about how you can better prepare your farms for the worst.