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World Pork Expo canceled over fear of African swine fever entering U.S.

By Jessie Higgins
The National Pork Producers Council moves to protect the $20 billion American pork industry from African swine fever by canceling its annual World Pork Expo, saying an outbreak in the U.S. would immediately close export markets. Photo by Jessie Higgins/UPI
The National Pork Producers Council moves to protect the $20 billion American pork industry from African swine fever by canceling its annual World Pork Expo, saying an outbreak in the U.S. would immediately close export markets. Photo by Jessie Higgins/UPI

EVANSVILLE, Ind., April 11 (UPI) -- With the looming threat of African swine fever entering the United States, the National Pork Producers Council canceled its 2019 World Pork Expo.

The three-day event, which had been planned June 5-7, usually draws some 20,000 visitors from around the world to the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines -- including those from regions currently infected with African swine fever.

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"Prevention is our only defense against ASF, and NPPC will continue to do all it can to prevent its spread to the United States," David Herring, the council's president, said in a statement. "The health of the U.S. swine herd is paramount. The livelihoods of our producers depend on it."

ASF is a highly contagious virus that infects hogs. It does not infect humans. Nearly all the animals that become sick die. There is no vaccine or treatment, leaving culling as the only method to combat the virus' spread.

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The disease was reported in China in Aug. 2018, and is spreading quickly through that nation and across Asia. It also was confirmed in South Africa in Wednesday, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health.

"It is unlikely it will stop soon," Dirk Pfeiffer, the chair professor of One Health at City University of Hong Kong's Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences, said in an email.

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"Instead, spread to neighboring countries is likely. And many of these countries will be less able than China to control the spread of this infectious disease. Without improved biosecurity behavior on farms and along the value chain, and in the absence of a vaccine, the situation is unlikely to improve in the short to medium term."

RELATED African swine fever epidemic in China weighs on U.S. agriculture industry

China has culled around 1 million hogs since August, and experts expect it will cull many millions more in the coming years, devastating the country's agricultural economy.

Agricultural specialists predict similar devastation should the disease enter the United States, which has a  $20 billion pork industry.

"Our farmers are highly export dependent," Herring said. "An ASF outbreak would immediately close our export markets at a time when we are already facing serious trade headwinds. The widespread presence of African swine fever in China's swine herd, the world's largest by far, takes the threat of this swine disease to an entirely new level."

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