U.S. Reps. Cindy Axne (D-IA-03) and Rep. James Baird (R-IN-04) urged U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to prioritize agricultural inspections to prevent an outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) among domestic swine herds. In a letter sent to Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan, the Representatives called attention to the rapid spread of ASF in Europe and Asia and highlighted the threat the disease poses to American hogs and our pork industry.

While harmless to humans, ASF is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease with no vaccine that affects hogs. Recent reports highlight that as many as half of China’s breeding pigs have died or been slaughtered due to African swine fever. Ongoing outbreaks of ASF have also been reported in Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Cambodia, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and South Africa.

“Iowa leads the nation in pork production, raising nearly one-third of U.S. hogs. An ASF outbreak here at home would be devastating to Iowa’s pork industry, which is an economic driver and job creator across the state,” said Congresswoman Axne. “Our producers have taken steps to minimize risk wherever possible, but we need to ensure CBP bolsters measures to prevent the introduction of this infectious disease in the U.S.” 

“Hoosier pork production ranks fifth in the nation with nearly 3,000 hog farms supporting 14,000 jobs,” said Congressman Baird. “An outbreak of African Swine Fever would be devastating to our communities and to thousands of workers who depend on hog farming as a way of life. CBP must do all it can to support our producers and prioritize the prevention of contagious diseases.”

“An outbreak of African swine fever in the United States, a development that would immediately close U.S. pork export markets, would be catastrophic for the nation’s swine herd, hog farmers and their families, and the rural economy,” said Dale Reicks, a pork producer from Lawler, Iowa, and member of the National Pork Producers Council’s board of directors. “With no vaccine to contain and eradicate the disease – not to mention the long and costly recovery period that would follow an outbreak – prevention is our only defense and it begins with biosecurity at our borders. We appreciate all that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has done to respond to heightened ASF risk and urge them to continue bolstering agricultural inspections at our sea, land and airports.

“If a case occurred in the U.S., pig producers would not only lose a portion of their herd from the disease and culling, but they’d immediately lose their export markets, which account for 25 percent of sales for U.S pork producers,” said Iowa Pork Producers Association President Trent Thiele. “This would also lead to billions in revenue loss for other commodities. Inexpensive domestic pork would flood the U.S. meat market since pork will continue to be safe for human consumption. But a 2011 economic impact study at Iowa State University shows an $8 billion loss in the pork market would expand to a loss in beef markets of $3 billion as beef prices would need to decline in order to compete with pork. With fewer pigs in the market to consume corn and soybeans, those prices drop, too, by $4 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively.”

Text of the letter is available below:

July 10, 2019

The Honorable Mark Morgan
Acting Commissioner
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20229

Dear Acting Commissioner Morgan,

We are writing to urge U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to prioritize inspections and screenings of imported agricultural goods, and to not divert resources that are greatly needed to prevent an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in domestic swine herds.

Over the past decade ASF has been endemic in Eastern Europe, where it has been detected on farms, in backyards, and in the wild. Although humans cannot be infected, ASF is fatal to hogs and there is no treatment, cure, or vaccine. It can be easily transmitted to swine through food sources, clothing, equipment, contaminated water, or hog to hog.

Alarmingly, the ongoing ASF outbreak has expanded far beyond Europe into Asia. In August 2018, Chinese officials identified an ASF outbreak in their swine populations that has already had devastating consequences. Although it has not reached the United States, the National Pork Producers Council canceled their June 2019 World Pork Expo held in Des Moines, Iowa, citing an “abundance of caution” to prevent the spread of this disease.

With approximately 50 million hogs in Iowa and 8.5 million in Indiana, our two states lead the country in pork production and produce over a third of the nation’s pork supply combined. Pork production generates over $36 billion in economic activity in Iowa and $3 billion in Indiana. This translates to nearly 142,000 jobs in the Iowa pork industry with 6,000 hog farms – 94% of which are family owned. Indiana’s 3,000 hog farms support 14,000 jobs in the pork industry. An outbreak of ASF in the United States would immediately halt pork exports and devastate the families and communities we represent.

As ASF continues to spread overseas, it is imperative that CBP prevent an outbreak in the United States. To accomplish this, we respectfully request CBP prioritize agricultural inspections and screenings to prevent the introduction of ASF or other foreign animal diseases to American swine herds. Maintaining strict standards of inspection is critical to ensuring our border and our farmers remain safe from this growing threat. To that end, we respectfully ask that you inform us on your current ASF prevention efforts. We appreciate your work and look forward to learning from your response.