U.S. seeks to protect pork exports if swine fever hits territories

Policy would distinguish Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands from mainland

File photo of hogs in an outdoor pen on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. (EAGiven/iStock/Getty Images)

Chicago | Reuters — The United States said on Thursday it is seeking to avoid disruptions to pork exports if the territories of Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands detect the fatal pig disease African swine fever.

The risk for infections in the territories is higher after the Dominican Republic last month confirmed the Americas’ first outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) in nearly 40 years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will work with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to designate Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as separate zones from the mainland to “ensure the continued flow of U.S. pork and live swine exports,” according to a statement.

The OIE allows zones in areas free of disease in response to an increased risk from a neighbouring country, USDA said.

The designations would allow the U.S. to maintain its status of not having ASF if the territories confirm cases, according to the National Pork Producers Council, a U.S. industry group.

African swine fever is harmless to humans but deadly to pigs. To prevent transmission, governments often block pork imports from countries where the disease is found.

ASF has never been detected in the U.S. It originated in Africa before spreading to Europe and Asia and has killed hundreds of millions of pigs.

Brazilian pork and poultry lobby ABPA and 21 private organizations from 18 Latin American countries met this month and formed a committee to discuss strategies to prevent ASF in the region.

USDA told Reuters on Aug. 5 that OIE “provides no designation between a country and its territories when determining ASF status.”

“In the event of a detection, we would quickly work with trading partners to regionalize Puerto Rico from the U.S. mainland and to show mitigations that are in place to prevent disease spread from Puerto Rico to the mainland,” USDA said in an email.

— Reporting for Reuters by Tom Polansek in Chicago; additional reporting by Ana Mano in Sao Paulo.

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