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Why Minnesota farmers are watching China’s swine fever outbreak closely

REUTERS/Daniel Acker
In 2018, Minnesota was the number three state for raising pigs in the U.S., with a total production value of $2.612 billion, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

African Swine Fever is entirely harmless to humans. But for pigs, it’s deadly. The disease is highly contagious and there is no known vaccine or treatment.

The disease has appeared many times over the last few decades in Europe. But more recently, the disease devastated over half of China’s domestically raised pigs — around 300 million, according to conservative estimates. And the recent Chinese outbreak raised a big question for U.S. farmers: Could it happen here?

Even while dealing with the trade war with China and considering the day to day fluctuations of the market, African Swine Fever is on the minds of Minnesota’s agricultural industry. “I think that’s probably one of the biggest worries we’ve got,” said Kevin Paap, President of the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

#3 in the U.S.

In 2018, Minnesota was the number three state for raising pigs in the U.S., with a total production value of $2.612 billion, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. That’s fifteen percent of the total agricultural economy in Minnesota. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, there were 8.7 million hogs and pigs on Minnesota farms in June 2019.

A disease like African Swine Fever would do major damage to the economy of the state, and the farmers that rely on production for work.

Rep. Collin Peterson
MinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein
Rep. Collin Peterson
“It’s not a food safety issue, but it’s a very important agricultural issue not only for livestock, but for those that raise corn and soybeans,” Paap said of African Swine Fever. Corn and soy, two crops that also make up a large portion of Minnesota’s agricultural economy, are used as feed for pigs. If the disease were to make headways in the U.S., it could have a ripple effect, dragging down other parts of the agricultural industry along with it. And it already has, when it comes to exporting those crops to China.

“We’re in a tough situation and it’s not just trade that’s a bigger problem frankly, than these trade deals at this point in terms of the prices [for soybeans],” Collin Peterson, who represents Minnesota’s Seventh, told AgNews 890 in late August. “So we’ve, the market has gone away and China and they’re saying may be 50% by the time we get done with this African swine fever.”

State officials said they have been taking prevention and preparation seriously. The Minnesota Board of Animal Health held four consecutive days of workshops in last month for first responders. The workshops simulated how to investigate the disease, stop pork shipments, deal with diseased animals, and finally allow healthy farms to continue business.

While humans are not susceptible to the disease, it is highly contagious and can spread by direct contact from pig to pig through bodily fluids. It can also contaminate feed or the clothes of someone who has come into contact with the pigs. It can contaminate pork as well, which a small number of farmers in Minnesota have been approved to process as food waste and feed to their pigs. Symptoms of the disease include high fever, loss of appetite and red skin lesions.

Once swine fever spreads, there’s not much that can be done other than culling herds and placing carcasses in hazardous waste sites. In China, that’s exactly what the state has done, subsidizing impacted farms. But while the disease has slowed, it is still active in the country and there have been reports of the government underreporting cases in order to declare the crisis over.

So the key is inspection and prevention, say Minnesota officials.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health advises that people who recently traveled out of the country should not be allowed near livestock for at least five days. African Swine Fever “could devastate the ag economy if it arrived and spread throughout the state,” representatives for the Board said.

Legislative Response

In Congress late last month, Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) introduced legislation meant to protect against African Swine Fever: The Protecting America’s Food & Agricultural Act. The proposed legislation would authorize U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire more agriculture specialists and inspectors to monitor for any sign of the disease. Axne, along with Rep. James Baird (R-Indiana), has taken the lead asking CBP to prioritize watching for the spread of African Swine Fever in Europe and Asia.

Peterson, the Chair of the Agricultural Committee, is an original co-sponsor of Axne’s bill. His office said more specifically, the bill would allow for the hiring of 40 CBP agricultural specialists each year until a shortage is filled, 200 agricultural technicians each year for administration and support, and 20 new canine units.

“From a U.S. perspective, our number one goal is prevention. There’s no treatment, there’s currently no vaccine for it, and it’s certainly very deadly,” said said Paap. “Prevention is the number one thing for keeping it out of here.”

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by richard owens on 10/04/2019 - 11:36 am.

    Minnesota farmers are suffering. Hogs can be a bright spot, but our county alone has lost millions of dollars of farm income just from the tariff fiasco.

    Ironically, pork production is still a significant rural employer, while small dairy is unlikely to be saved, and whose employees will have to go somewhere else.

    Please legislature (Republicans especially), support our farmers- they voted for you and still you won’t even fund our roads out here, you won’t help with internet expansion and you don’t help our rural economy by doing that.

    • Submitted by Scott Walters on 10/04/2019 - 04:22 pm.

      I’m pleased to see that you’ve noticed that Republicans haven’t done diddley squat for farmers or rural Minnesota. Not really a surprise that they haven’t, that’s just how it works.
      Maybe, just maybe, if farmers voted Democratic-Farmer-Labor, they might find allies in supporting better access to health care, better internet access, and improvements in both urban and rural transit and infrastructure. Just spitballin’ here, but just maybe.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/04/2019 - 08:40 pm.

        Nah, farmers & their rural brethren would rather elect politicians that are more interested in owning the libs. You, like by passing local interference laws that keep the evil, immigrant-loving, gay tolerant Twin Cities from banning plastic bags or raising their minimum wages (which would make rural MN more competitive).

        Then they can wallow in their misery while driving on crumbling roads, & blame it all on the myth that their tax dollars are supporting LRT so Scary Brown People can get to the welfare office.

        • Submitted by William Duncan on 10/05/2019 - 10:21 am.

          Sentiment like yours is sure to have the opposite effect than you intend. Try using such withering language in critique of corporatized, globalized industrial agribusiness, that system that has forced farmers into an agriculture that is ecocide, pathological; less nastiness against your fellow working Minnesotans.

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 10/04/2019 - 05:01 pm.

      Though not directly related to swine, it has no less impact by the tariffs. The Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, was just in Wisconsin and told his audience of dairy farmers that they should get use to small family dairy farms going under since they can’t compete with corporate industrial farming. If that isn’t a wake up call to those honest farmers, I don’t know what is.

  2. Submitted by William Duncan on 10/05/2019 - 10:12 am.

    Let’s talk about water quality in this land of Ten Thousand Lakes. 8.7 million hogs is about 3 million more than humans. But an adult hog makes 4x’s the waste a human does, which is like having 30 million people in this state with next to no waste treatment infrastructure.

    Corn and soybean industrial ag is well established as bad for water quality (and for pollinators).

    Oh, and we are turning these hogs into cannibal pork eaters (but only a small number assuredly/such a curious way to phrase it).

    Forgive me if I shed no tear for the troubles of today’s industrial agribusiness. Bad for water, bad for the land, bad for communities, bad for farmers.

    • Submitted by richard owens on 10/05/2019 - 07:26 pm.

      With all respect, I think you are uninformed, or somehow removed from the economy agriculture drives, here, where we live.

      Land is taxed over and over, but can’t always pay the cost.

      There is a problem,

      • Submitted by William Duncan on 10/06/2019 - 11:46 am.


        I grew up in farm country, I have studied the issues at length, I have made it something of my life’s work to defend farming but condemn the economics that have been so very bad for the water, for rural communities, and for farmers.

        Yes, taxes are a serious issue, less and less for the wealthiest, more and more for working people. But a greater issue is the economics that favors monopoly and large holdings, and impoverishes working people over time.

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