Several years ago, with African swine fever (ASF) spreading through much of the world, U.S. pork producers became alarmed because of the devastating economic impact the swine-only disease would have on the U.S. pork industry should it reach the U.S. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) began an aggressive campaign with Congress, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to increase protections against ASF being introduced into the U.S. Then came the recent announcement that ASF had been found in the Dominican Republic, the first incidence of the disease in the Western Hemisphere in 40 years. As a result, NPPC turned up the pressure on lawmakers and administration officials to put more resources toward fighting the disease, and its efforts were rewarded in a truly unprecedented action. This week, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack moved to transfer $500 million from USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation to APHIS for work on ASF prevention. As a former APHIS administrator, I can think of no other instance where funds for prevention of a disease were made available before an actual disease outbreak. It always has been challenging to get funds advanced for disease prevention, but once an outbreak occurs, significant amounts of funding are made available for eradicating a disease. This action reverses that age-old – and misguided – approach and finally gets the horse in front of the cart! An outbreak of ASF in the U.S. would cost the pork, corn, soybean and allied industries billions of dollars and negatively impact the pork industry for years to come. Additionally, USDA would incur millions of dollars in costs in its attempt to eradicate ASF, something that likely would take several years. This $500 million investment now seems like a solid hedge against the billions in losses the U.S. agriculture industry would suffer in the event of an ASF outbreak. Congratulations, Secretary Vilsack, on getting it right!
-Bob Acord, NPPC consultant and former administrator of the USDA APHIS