Oink, eh-S-F

A look at the initiative to halt the spread of ASF into Canada.

By Andrew Joseph

do not enter sign over pig pens
Photo Credit: DarcyMaulsby/iStock/Getty Images Plus photo

Even as the world slogs through the pandemic of Covid-19, and the poultry sector sees surges of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 virus, the global pig industry in many countries has already faced the onslaught of the deadly African Swine Fever (ASF), as most of the western hemisphere prepares to keep it out.

The most recent flurry of ASF has been on the radar for four years - a virus that causes a hemorrhagic fever with quick and high mortality rates in domestic pigs.

Having spread through China, Mongolia, Vietnam, parts of the European Union and now closer to home in the Dominion Republic and Haiti, it is the first time ASF has been detected in the western hemisphere in 40-plus years.

It has not yet reached the Canada or United States - there has never been a confirmed case in North America - and both countries are deeply vested in keeping it that way.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the US Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection are both taking measures to increase the inspection of flights from infected areas to ensure travellers refrain from bringing in any prohibited products.

During a previous ASF outbreak assailing the Dominican Republic in 1978, it was forced to cull all of its 1.4 million pigs - a devastating economic loss for the country.

Just as it did to the Dominican Republic over 40 years ago, ASF continues to threaten global pork production. Pork meat is one of the primary sources of animal proteins for humans, consisting of over 35% of our global intake.

Per Statistic Canada, the Canadian pork industry is valued at $24 billion (~US$18.6-billion), and employs over 45,000 people in the production and procession areas - it’s why the threat of ASF within its borders is being taken very seriously.

As we are all aware, there is no vaccine currently available for ASF, which means that prevention and control is based on farm biosecurity measures - the three basics of isolation, traffic control, and/or sanitation measures - and rapid test removal policies.

Animal Health Canada - name changed in January of 2022 from the National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council - has formulated an ASF Executive Management Board (EMB), featuring membership from the Canadian Pork Council (CPC), Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC), Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Canadian Meat Council (CMC) and the Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec provincial governments.

The EMB has been working on the Pan-Canadian ASF Action Plan operating under four framework pillars:

  1. Enhanced biosecurity and prevention led by the CPC;
  2. Preparedness planning led by the CFIA;
  3. Ensuring business continuity led by the CMC, and;
  4. Coordinating risk communications, led by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

The EMB’s framework includes integration and harmonization of its planning with both Mexico and the US, with the expressed main objective of ensuring Canada remains ASF-free by trying to come up with a harmonized diagnostic testing process between the NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement) countries.

For all pork entities in Canada, the sector’s ability to adapt to market changes will be key.

Prevention is enacted upon by enhancement of Canada’s border and post-border activities, with stakeholders helping ensure improvement with import requirements, while adopting enhanced biosecurity measures.

The CFIA has import measures in place and is aligned with the CBSA to control products brought in to minimize the introduction of the virus into Canada. The CFIA is also actively monitoring the global situation, providing continuous risk assessment of countries from which Canada imports, and is working with the European Union to keep tabs on affected countries, updating import controls as required.

The CFIA continues to encourage the enhancing of biosecurity measures, including those for all travellers abroad. It also maintains on-going discussions with all provincial Chief Veterinary Officers and the American counterparts.

Should that objective become unsustainable, the EMB is working to ensure any such ASF outbreak in Canada is minimized, which essentially boils down to controlling and isolating where any outbreak occurs.

However, while minimizing the effects of any ASF outbreak, the EMB wants to ensure that: the Canadian wild pig population is managed; trade continues between its top importing countries; and that confidence in Canadian pork is maintained for the national and global consumer base.

In mid-March of 2022, both the Canadian and Ontario provincial governments earmarked $3.2 million for the Enhanced Biosecurity for African Swine Fever Preparedness Initiative under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.

The partnership plan is to reduce the likelihood of the introduction of ASF into the province of Ontario. This intake will assist producers, processors, and other agri-businesses across Ontario’s pork value chain by cost-sharing certain expenses related to biosecurity improvements and ASF prevention and preparedness activities.

Successful applicants will receive 50 percent of the verified eligible expenses incurred and paid, up to a maximum amount of $40,000 for these eight categories:

  1. Education, Training, Assessment, and Planning;
  2. Defining Zones and Controlled Access Points;
  3. Establishing Cleaning and Disinfecting Practices;
  4. Establishing Isolation or Segregation Facilities;
  5. Preventing Access by Wildlife, Pests, and Rodents;
  6. Health Management;
  7. Establishing Facilities to Manage Deadstock;
  8. Equipment and Services.

Ontario entities eligible for the funding are any: producer that is a legal entity that raises, owns or houses pigs; processor business that is involved directly in the slaughter of pigs - an eligible processor business registered under the federal Safe Food for Canadians Act or a licensed abattoir under the Ontario provincial Food Safety and Quality Act, 2001; agri-business, other than a producer or processer business that is a legal entity operating an established commingling facility for pigs, such as assembly yards, sales barns, auction markets (including facilities licenced under the Livestock Community Sales Act), fairs, exhibitions, community pastures, trucking rest stations, transporters, and veterinary clinics.

For all pork entities in Canada, the sector’s ability to adapt to market changes will be key, and is outlined via the ASF EMB’s mandate to:

  • Inform and make recommendations to government and industry leaders on ASF planning and preparedness progress and further actions required to deliver on the ASF Framework for Action;
  • Provide science-based strategic and policy advice and recommendations, and support the delivery of solutions on animal health and welfare matters to the working level ASF group members such as the CFIA, AAFC, CBSA, provinces/territories, industry and non-government stakeholders;
  • Prioritize animal health-related activities to prevent and respond to the risk of an ASF incursion into Canada;
  • Facilitate the implementation of solutions by leveraging the efforts of federal, provincial, and territories governments, industry, academia and, as needed, other stakeholders or organizations;
  • Work with existing bodies wherever it is feasible and efficient;
  • Facilitate and/or enable collaboration across government departments, industry, academia, and other stakeholders;
  • Make recommendations to the Animal Health Canada Champions Group as needed.

pig wearing mask
Photo Credit: Anatolii – stock.adobe.com

Currently - between March 18-June 16, 2022 - Canada’s proposed National Standards for African Swine Fever Compartments is open gathering input from this consultation to help better-formulate national standards and framework for the ASF compartments for those that only raise pigs indoors.

This consultation is examining biosecurity features to prevent ASF spread.

Via the www.inspectioncanada.ca website it provides its proposed rules and regulations. It’s a long list, so we suggest you view it at the original url source. It discusses: Live pigs; Semen and semen collection centres; Embryos; Water supplies; Building requirements; Feed; Vehicles; Equipment; People; Deadstock; Manure; Emergency plans; Surveillance; Traceability; and Traceability and prevention of contamination during processing. Benchmark will provide the information on Live Pigs only, owing to space.

Live Pigs:

  1. Live pigs from a source other than a compartment must be moved to and housed within a dedicated building on a compartment premises or at another premises maintained for a pre-compartment entry quarantine.
    • Signage must be posted that clearly identifies the pre-compartment entry quarantine, denoting the applicable restrictions, and preventing unauthorized entries. If housed in a dedicated building on the compartment premises, once the pigs are “released from quarantine”, this signage may be removed;
    • The operation of the pre-compartment entry quarantine must meet the management and operational requirements of the compartment detailed in these standards;
    • All people, pigs, and things that move out of the pre-compartment entry quarantine and enter the compartment must meet the requirements for entry into the compartment
  2. Starting from the time the last pig entered the pre-compartment entry quarantine, all the live pigs must remain in the quarantine for a minimum of 30 days, during which time no live pig can be added.
  3. All pigs from a source other than a compartment must be subject to antigen detection testing 21 days or more after the start of the isolation. No pig can be released from quarantine until test results for all pigs are confirmed negative. A compartment will be suspended if it is determined that any premises received non-compartment pigs without following standards 1, 2, and 3 as written.
  4. A mortality threshold must be established for the pre-compartment entry quarantine (see surveillance standards on the website for details of how this is to be done). The threshold is based on the established threshold for the same production type of pigs in the compartment that they will be entering. All pig mortalities in a pre-compartment entry quarantine that exceed the mortality threshold pigs in the pre-compartment isolation area must be sampled within 48 hours of death, and the samples sent for ASF antigen detection testing.

If you suspect a pig may be infected, ensure the cohort remains separate from others, follow employee biosecurity protocols, and immediately contact your veterinarian for confirmation.