KANSAS CITY, Mo. – While no cases of African Swine Fever (ASF) have been detected in North America, officials throughout the US pork industry are preaching preparation and awareness as the virus continues to spread across many Asian countries, most notably in China and in Europe. While biosecurity is a main prevention emphasis, planning for the possibility of an outbreak in North America is also a necessary focus. One logistical element is how to deal with the infected animals in the supply chain.

During a May 24 panel discussion at the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Spring Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, Dave Pyburn, DVM, senior vice president of science and technology with the National Pork Board, clarified that while ASF-infected pork can be eaten safely, the US Dept. of Agriculture prohibits sick animals from entering the food chain. He said symptoms of ASF in pigs occurs rapidly, and most animals die within 10 days of infection. When the topic of disposal of infected carcasses came up, Pyburn said there is no protocol in place should there be an outbreak in the US and the methods being used in China are ineffective.

When it comes to depopulation and disposal of animals, Pyburn said, “I don’t have answers for that.”

“We do not have adequate plans right now and USDA is not going to come through on a white horse with adequate plans for depopulation and disposal,” he added.

Pyburn urged all stakeholders, including state animal health officials and pork producers to devise the most effective means for handling the issue on individual farms in the event of an outbreak. While the scenario for smaller producers would likely involve a simpler process for identifying, euthanizing and moving infected animals from the general population, facilities where herds number upwards of 10,000 head per site create bigger challenges. Once animals have been culled, Pyburn said the issue of disposal is the next challenge.

“How are you going to put them in an adequate disposal area,” he asked. “Whether that’s above-ground composting, whether that’s burial, whether that’s burning or whether that’s a landfill, now is the time for all of us to figure it out.” There is no silver bullet for addressing the potential situation, he said because of varying regulations among states and the size and nature of each production facility. “We need folks to be looking at what can they do in their states,” he said and identifying potential plans for depopulation is critical.

Few lessons can be learned from the depopulation efforts in China as producers across the country are dealing with the cull of tens of millions of pigs, according to Pyburn, who categorized the situation there as simply “ugly.”

“They don’t have a plan and I don’t want to go to where we have an ugly situation like they’re having.”