Bettie the beagle, an American detection dog Customs and Border Protection, picked up the scent of pork on a woman arriving at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago from China.
The dog’s trainer soon discovered and confiscated a ham sandwich in a passenger’s purse that had flew from Shanghai on a China Eastern Airlines flight.
The Hazard? The African swine fever can contaminate the food and spread the disease to the United States. In the incidents of the disease, China has lost millions of pigs, pushing up its pork prices to record highs, forcing expensive food purchases and roiling global meat markets.
Bettie is among an expanding team of specially trained beagles at U.S. airports, part of a greater effort to protect the nation’s $23 billion pork industry from a disease that has decimated China’s hog herd, the world’s largest.
African swine fever spread to Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, with outbreaks in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Korea, Myanmar, the Philippines, Poland, Belgium and Bulgaria. Some countries and others around the globe that have hitherto sidestepped the epidemic are clamping down on passengers, increasing cargo screening and banning meat imports.
China’s pig industry in crisis
Countries that produce pork stand to lose billions of dollars if the disease infects their economies as outbreaks devastate crops and shut down export markets. African swine fever does not affect humans but infected pigs do not have a vaccine or cure.
If the disease comes into the United States, the largest pork-exporting nation with 77.3 million hogs, the government will fail to protect the industry, Reuters was told by participants in a four-day exercise in September.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicted a Mississippi outbreak that spread to the top pig-producing states of the country, including North Carolina, Iowa, and Minnesota; Veterinarians, farmers and officials from government gathered at command centers where they checked their ability to quickly identify, monitor, and clean up after an outbreak.
The U.S. government is performing outbreak-response exercises at airports and seaports and increasing capacity to test pigs. France and Germany kill hundreds of thousands of wild boars which could carry the disease.
Thailand knocked out pigs in a region near Myanmar where the disease was registered. South Korea directed soldiers to kill wild boars on its border with North Korea, while Vietnam used forces to ensure the evacuation of infected pigs..
Australia expelled Vietnamese travelers to smuggle pork and banned the importation of pork products. In an attempt to protect its nearest neighbors from African swine fever Australia has sent advisors to the Pacific islands. If such efforts fail, Australian Pork Limited, an industry group, estimates it could cost the country more than 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.4 billion) over five years.
Where African swine fever is reported, U.S. authorities intend to suspend domestic pig shipments between farms and slaughterhouses. The USDA and states may issue orders to halt livestock movement in some areas as a way of controlling the disease.
In a statement to Reuters, the USDA said the September drill revealed flaws in its guidelines to clarify when and how the movement of pigs should be limited. The government is also expanding the number of laboratories that it uses to monitor for swine fever in Africa.