WASHINGTON — The African swine fever virus (ASFV) is a highly contagious disease that spreads rapidly in pig populations. It has no impact on people, so pork remains safe to consume. To help keep the U.S. ASFV-free and protect the country’s pigs, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the National Pork Board (NPB) awarded $535,780 to research teams at Kansas State University and Iowa State University to study how ASFV survives and how to test pigs for the virus.
ASFV has existed in Africa for decades. However, the virus is spreading due to changing production practices and increasing globalization. ASFV entered China in August 2018 and is now quickly infecting swine herds across the globe. The virus has also been reported in Europe. The current state of ASFV spread and concerns that it could enter North America increases risk for pig farming. The U.S., specifically, produces 125 million pigs annually.
To date, a vaccine or treatment for the virus has yet to be developed, although research is underway. Farmers are focused on ways to prevent the virus from entering the U.S., as losses would be staggering not only for the pork industry, but for other agriculture commodities as well.
“We remain committed to investing pork checkoff funds in strategic ways, such as this collaboration to find new ways to protect our domestic swine herd from foreign animal disease threats,” said David Newman, president of the National Pork Board and a producer representing Arkansas. “Understanding how African swine fever survives can help us create better techniques for controlling the spread of this costly virus and reduce the odds of a domestic outbreak.”
Even though ASFV does not affect human health, it threatens the $20 billion U.S. swine industry and the 550,000 American jobs created by the industry. To date, only limited research funding is available, which is why FFAR and the National Pork Board are collaborating on funding research projects to diagnose and manage an ASFV outbreak in the U.S.
The main focus for producers is preventing the virus from entering the U.S. and preparing the industry by understanding the survivability mechanisms of the virus. This knowledge will help to identify strategies to keep it out of the country and assist in creating rapid and accurate virus identification techniques in case the virus does reach the U.S.
Research funded in this collaboration includes studies by Kansas State University and Iowa State University. Kansas State University researchers seek to understand how ASFV survives and continues to infect other animals in various environments. If scientists understand how the disease spreads, they will be better able to control, or even stop, the spread of this virus. Additional work at Kansas State University is developing tests to detect ASFV. A third project is creating diagnostic tests to quickly test entire herds for ASF.
Iowa State University researchers are focusing on how best to identify foreign animal diseases at low prevalence in large commercial pens using oral fluid samples. This test allows farmers to string a rope in the pen. The pigs will naturally chew on the rope, and then the rope can be tested to detect for traces of targeted viruses.
“There is no time to waste. We must work quickly, and through partnership with the National Pork Board, to drive solutions pork producers can use to detect and manage infected animals if the virus reaches the U.S. This research may be the key to dramatically reducing any potential spread of African swine fever,” said Sally Rockey, Ph.D., FFAR executive director. “U.S. pork producers are already coping with uncertainty across the entire sector, and an outbreak of African swine fever would devastate American farmers, who are already struggling.”
FFAR’s grant is being matched by funding from the National Pork Board, Cargill, Kemin, Purina Animal Nutrition and Kansas State University for a total investment of $535,780.