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USDA’s Swine Health Improvement Plan centers on biosecurity, disease surveillance and testing

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

How can the nation’s hog producers keep diseases such as brucellosis, swine influenza and African swine fever (ASF)out of their barns? North Dakota’s state veterinarian says programs like the U.S. Swine Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) can help.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture reached out to the industry, and they started working together on an approach to deal with ASF,” Dr. Ethan Andress says. “They developed U.S. SHIP, which is based around biosecurity, disease surveillance and testing.”

Program goals

Modeled after the National Poultry Improvement Plan, U.S. SHIP works to establish a platform for safeguarding, improving and representing the health status of swine across participating farm sites, supply chains, states and regions. 

There are three aims of U.S. SHIP. 

The first is safer trade, which is focused on enhancing all aspects of trade impacting disease preparedness among participating producers, slaughter facilities and states through proactively establishing an industry-informed and working system of operations and certification built upon well-defined program requirements for biosecurity, traceability and disease surveillance.

The second is disease impact, which reduces the impact of recurring endemic diseases of high consequences through the sustainable advancement of sanitary standards and practices which mitigate disease spread into and between farms.

And, the third and final goal is a customized program to provide U.S. pork industry participants a firsthand experience in developing and participating in a program customized to meet the needs of the U.S. pork industry.

“Approximately 30 percent of our pork is shipped overseas,” Andress says. “If we were to have a disease outbreak in the U.S., we would immediately have to shut our exports down, which will create a bottleneck in our system.”

“With products that don’t have a market anymore, our pork industry would be destroyed by the time we rebuild if it happens, which would cost us billions of dollars regardless,” he adds.

U.S. SHIP is one way producers can have peace of mind in keeping trade and exports open if a disease does reach the states, but North Dakota offers another big benefit to disease prevention – space.

Safety in space

“This is a time where our low pig population is very useful,” says Amber Wood, executive director of the North Dakota Livestock Alliance. “We’re able to start and place herds a respectful distance away from each other to ensure if disease gets in, we’re able to isolate and prevent the illness from passing to another pig barn.”

States with a high density of hogs including Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota might see challenges with isolating livestock during a disease. 

“Our herds might be able to stay clear enough where we would be able to continue meeting the needs of U.S. and international consumers,” Wood says.

U.S. SHIP is working to establish a national playbook of technical standards and associated certification, recognized across participating states, which centers on disease prevention in support of animal health, commerce and trade.

“ASF has had a devastating impact on the pig industry worldwide,” Andress says. “It weakens the immune system and allows a lot of other infections to come, which can cause up to 100 percent mortality.” 

The disease has no effect on humans and does not increase risk in food supplies.

While vaccines and products are being tested, with varying levels of success, participation in the program is crucial, according to Andress. 

“Right now, we have a large part of the industry participating, but we need to reach show pigs. We need to get all entities involved so we can all get on the same page,” he says.

Sarah McNaughton is an editor for Dakota Farmer. This article was originally published in Farm Progress on Feb. 14.

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