More dogs in more ports of entry are being put to work by Customs and Border Protection to help the USDA keep African swine fever from entering the United States. They fear Chinese food containing pork or pork products, or a world traveler, might become the transmission vehicle for the swine disease that has yet to reach U.S. herds.

It was the dogs that last week led U.S. border agents to seize 1 million pounds of suspect Chinese pork and pork products. It was the largest food seizure ever at the U.S. border, with 50 shipping containers displayed during a press conference at a government warehouse in Elizabeth, NJ.

Illegally smuggled pork was stacked from wall-to-wall.

Coming after a big cocaine bust, the pork seizure showed how determined federal border officials are about keeping African swine fever out of the United States. It also sent the message that Chinese pork and pork products are a danger to U.S. consumers.

African swine fever (ASF) is a deadly and highly contagious viral disease that poses a danger to both wild and domestic pigs of all ages. The virus does not present a typical food safety risk, but the swine fever can contaminate food products containing pork.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture prefers to seize smuggled Chinese pork products first and later check it for the presence ASF. If ASF ever finds its way into pigs in the United States, it could put $10 billion of animals and the entire swine market at risk. The disease can kill a full-grown hog in just a couple days.

Officials report China has experienced 112 outbreaks of ASF across 28 provinces since August 2018. Most involve farms, but at least one involves a Chinese slaughterhouse.

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) is tracking the “ASF situation,” and issues a new report every few days. The latest OIE report, for the period ending March 14, says that tracking of wild boar, backyard pig collections, and farm swine shows ASF outbreaks in Africa, Europe and Asia.

China’s ASF control measures have so far included killing more than 1 million pigs in an attempt to get ahead of the disease.

But so far, ASF in Asia is outpacing attempts to control it. Vietnam experienced 17 new outbreaks during the most recent reporting period, according to OIE. That compares to four during the previous reporting period. Chinese officials say ASF has been found in processed meat and products such as dumplings.

Some expect it will continue to spread, reaching Japan, Korea and Thailand in short order. Chinese officials have said they will have to live with ASF until there is a vaccine.

USDA urges workers to watch for symptoms
While the virus has never been found in the U.S., the USDA nonetheless wants anyone who works with pigs to be aware of the indicators for ASF. The indicators include high fever; decreased appetite and weakness; red, blotchy skin or skin lesions; diarrhea; vomiting; and coaching and difficulty breathing.

Pigs showing these signs should be reported to state or federal health officials or by calling USDA’s toll-free number at 866-536-7593. On-the-farm biosecurity measures are critical to prevent the development and spread of ASF, according to the USDA.

Agriculture officials are also concerned about international travel that might spread the ASF to the United States. Travelers returning to the U.S. should not bring back any pork or pork products. Further, USDA wants international travelers to avoid visiting farms with pigs or piglets, along with sale barns, livestock markets, zoos or pet stores.

Note on content: the original version of this story and headline incorrectly identified the virus. It is African swine fever. We regret any confusion this may have caused for our readers. 

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