Saving Your Bacon

April 18, 2019

How NPPC Put Animal Welfare First 

Did you hear? One of the largest annual gatherings of farmers has been canceled for 2019. No trade show, no demos, no speakers or shared learning opportunities and it is not insignificant to note: no revenue from all of that for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). That’s the group that typically hosts World Pork Expo each year, now canceled for this year. 

Why? Because their board of directors decided it’s not worth the risk to animal health. The NPPC announcement explains that the decision was made out of an abundance of caution as African Swine Fever (ASF) continues to spread in China and other parts of Asia. World Pork Expo, held at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, hosts approximately 20,000 visitors over three days, according to NPPC, including individuals and exhibitors from around the world. Imagine the revenue it generates. Hard to resist, right? I guess not. At least, not when animal health and welfare is threatened.  

NPPC president and farmer from North Carolina, Dave Herring, put it this way, “While an evaluation by veterinarians and other third-party experts concluded negligible risk associated with holding the event, we have decided to exercise extreme caution. The health of the U.S. swine herd is paramount.” He went on to say that prevention is our only defense against ASF and NPPC will continue to do all it can to prevent the spread of ASF to the United States. 

Is it true that farmers’ bottom lines would also be impacted in the event of an ASF outbreak? Yes, of course. The two are inextricably intertwined. If pig farmers want to pass their farms on to the next generation, animal health and welfare must be a top priority. As one producer recently put it, “I’m a fourth-generation pig farmer and if I want my farm to become a fifth-generation farm, which I do – and my kids do – then we darn well better take good care of our pigs.” But, it’s about more than dollars and cents, as he further explained, “We have an ethical obligation to take every precaution we can to keep our pigs healthy by keeping the disease out of the U.S., especially considering there is no vaccine for ASF. 

I applaud the NPPC board for making the courageous – and less lucrative – decision.  

It is important to note that ASF affects only pigs and presents no human health or food safety risks, which again points back to this being an animal welfare-based decision.

As a veterinarian, I pray ASF never reaches our borders. I’ve seen it and it is an ugly disease. That’s why I urge all producers – and every world traveler – to recognize the heightened risk and heed biosecurity protocols in support of U.S. agriculture. Animals’ lives depend upon it and some kids hoping to operate a fifth-generation farm depend upon it too 

Thank goodness we have terrific men and women working along our borders as U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture inspectors to keep the disease out of our country. May their eyes be watchful and their attention unyielding.