An approximate $1.7 million grant from the USDA Foreign Animal Service is opening the door to a unique collaboration that will allow U.S. researchers to study the devastating African swine fever (ASF) virus in Vietnam, where ASF is actively spreading.
 
“Thankfully we don’t have ASF in the U.S. at this time,” says Paul Sundberg, executive director of the Swine Health Improvement Center (SHIC). “But we can’t learn all the lessons from ASF correctly by putting the virus in animals in an artificial laboratory environment. This is an opportunity to go to a place where ASF is causing problems and to study how it works there.”
 
ASF does not affect human health or pose food safety risks, but the virus is devastating the pork industry in Southeast Asia and China and upsetting the global protein market. 
 
ASF Dialogue Opens
This grant, recently awarded to SHIC, with active support from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), aims to start a dialogue between the two regions, sharing veterinary knowledge and ways to prevent the disease from further spreading. 
 
“It gives U.S. pork producers, USDA and state animal health officials – everyone together – the opportunity to be better prepared to respond quickly and effectively. We are going to learn lessons about effective response and control that we can’t learn in a laboratory. And that is the very exciting part of this,” he says.
 
The grant will fund the multi-phase project, helping to build strategic partnerships, while increasing trade of U.S. pork to the region. The work will include swine health field projects, including collection and analysis of disease samples, which are valuable data for all participants and U.S. pork producers.
 
Under phase one of the project, the groups will identify and meet with key stakeholders in Vietnam. During the second phase, the groups will train the Vietnamese veterinary workforce on ASF prevention and control, helping to build local veterinary capacity. In the final phase, ASF-related field projects will be implemented, including those helping to inform the U.S. pork industry about effective ASF preparedness and response. 
 
The projects seek to gain insight in five key areas: 
1. Identifying pathways for viral entry on farms.
2. Validating use of swine oral fluids to confirm farm or region positive or negative status.
3. Exploring the potential to isolate the virus on one area of a farm to enable other areas to provide pigs free of ASF contamination.
4. Validating cleaning and disinfecting procedures so farms may be repopulated as soon as it is safe.
5. Assessing cross-border risks and risk management of transboundary swine diseases.
 
Support for Vietnam
Sundberg says an important piece of this project is that the U.S. will also offer to Vietnam – both the government officials and pork industry – assistance with learning those lessons as well. 
 
“As the virus moves around country, I am hopeful we can uncover for them, as well as for our information, ways the virus is getting into the farm to help stop it, ways to do a better job of monitoring and surveillance to help control it, and to learn better how to clean and disinfect a farm and then repopulate it after it breaks with ASF,” Sundberg says.
 
SHIC’s goal is to push the timeline as hard as possible to learn lessons as quickly as possible, he adds.
 
“In the end, it makes no difference if we’re talking about Vietnamese pork producers, Canadian pork producers, or U.S. pork producers, there are common lessons that we need to learn quickly from this ASF outbreak in Southeast Asia,” Sundberg says. “This is an opportunity to do that and help everyone so we can best manage and respond to this disease.”
 
Everyone participating in Vietnam, from the pork producers to the government officials and the veterinary diagnostic laboratory, has been very supportive of collaboration, he says.
 
A Collaborative Effort
NPPC and SHIC are working closely with the USDA and the other industry organizations to first prevent ASF from entering the U.S. swine herd and to be prepared to respond should an outbreak occur. The industry is identifying and prioritizing critical research needs and working in collaboration with state and federal animal health officials to make sure that all appropriate biosecurity measures are being implemented at a national level. 
 
“NPPC, in partnership with SHIC, National Pork Board (NPB), American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV), and USDA, is committed to reducing the risk of the U.S. swine herd contracting foreign animal diseases, including ASF. With ASF spreading throughout Asia, this project will represent an important tool to further open both communication and markets between our regions,” said NPPC President David Herring, a pork producer in Lillington, N.C.
 
U.S. Pork Industry Has Opportunity to Uncover ASF Answers in Vietnam