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African swine fever likely arriving at U.S. airports, study says

By Jessie Higgins
African swine fever likely arriving at U.S. airports, study says
A new report puts the probability that African swine fever, carried in pork products by travelers, is arriving at airports in the United States at 100 percent, raising the likelihood that it could infect the American pig herd. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

EVANSVILLE, Ind., May 17 (UPI) -- Pork products testing positive for African swine fever are likely arriving at airports across the United States, carried by travelers from infected regions, according to a study by researchers in the United States and Spain.

The study -- conducted at the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety at the University of Minnesota and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid -- looked at the amount of smuggled pork confiscated by customs and border officers at various airports and the number of flights arriving from African swine fever-positive regions.

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By doing this, researchers also determined the airports that are likely seeing the most African swine fever-positive products. Those include: Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey; Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport; Los Angeles International Airport; John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York; and San Jose International Airport in California.

"The assessed probability that infected products are arriving in airports is 100 percent," said Paul Sundberg, the director of the Swine Health Information Center in Iowa, which funded the report.

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That does not mean those products will come into contact with American pigs, Sundberg quickly added. The vast majority will be intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which uses a variety of techniques to stop people from bringing pork into the country -- including a "Beagle Brigade" of pork-sniffing dogs.

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Even if the products make it out of the airport, most of those travelers will never come into contact with a pig.

"This is not a risk assessment of the likelihood those products will infect a pig," Sundberg said. "That is a different question. There is quite a long list of everything that would have to happen for that smuggled pork sandwich to get to a pig."

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But the fact that Africa swine fever likely is reaching American airports does raise the probability of transmission to a pig in this country, the report said.

The highly contagious virus, which is deadly to hogs but not transmittable to humans, is spreading rampantly across Asia. It's predicted to kill up to 200 million animals in China during the coming year, crippling that nation's pork industry. There is no treatment or vaccine, leaving culling and biosecurity as the only methods to contain an outbreak.

Currently, the disease has not reached the American herd. If it does, pork industry experts say it could devastate a $23 billion industry.

"Prevention is our best defense," said Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian at the National Pork Producers Council.

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