Getting ready for a crisis isn’t on the top of anyone’s favorite activities, but it’s a top priority when something as big and threatening as African swine fever (ASF) poses a real risk to the nation’s swine herd. The Pork Checkoff and its industry partners have been diligently preparing for such an eventuality for many years.
When the ASF news in China got very serious in August 2018, the pork industry’s ASF Crisis Team was activated to coordinate the work of the National Pork Board, the National Pork Producer Council, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, the Swine Health Information Center and the North American Meat Institute. The intra-industry team keeps all of the groups updated on ASF-related activities and the role each group will play should a foreign animal disease strike.
“We have two parts of a crisis plan in play,” said Cindy Cunningham, assistant vice president of communications with the National Pork Board. “The first part deals with the current ASF global situation, while the second focuses on how we will respond as an industry if ASF is confirmed in the U.S.”
The producer side of the plan includes interactions with state pork associations and USDA/APHIS, with a focus on producer needs. The goal is to protect the U.S. swine herd and producers, working in advance to determine how an ASF outbreak would play out across the country.
Outreach will be an important in the event of an outbreak to help producers know at any given moment what needs to be done at the farm level. Through the Foreign Animal Disease Preparation Bulletin, information at www.pork.org/FAD, barn posters, media outreach and more, producers have access to the information they need and will need to make decisions and plans on their farm.
Consumer Reassurance Is Critical
The consumer plan is focusing on determining a baseline of consumer confidence in pork today versus what it would be following the confirmation of an ASF outbreak in the United States.
“We know that consumer awareness and knowledge of ASF is low” Cunningham said. “Consumer messages have been tested and are already in use. In fact, through a concerted effort, the majority of ASF media coverage contains the ‘pork is safe’ message as it relates to the inability of people to literally get ASF, which eases their potential concerns.”
If ASF is confirmed here, the National Pork Board will launch a $6 million consumer campaign. Additional information will be available at www.factsaboutpork.org, which is live now, but not advertised. The site hosts four videos that detail why pork would remain safe during a potential ASF outbreak since the virus does not pose a human health issue, including when handling or eating pork and pork products.
An ASF-positive announcement also would mean that 20 pre-determined expert spokespeople would spring into action to allay consumer fears and offer expert insights. For Spanish-speaking consumers, tools exist now at www.porkessabor.com.
“The goal of the ASF Crisis Team is to quickly implement the crisis plan for a quick and effective response should ASF be confirmed here today,” Cunningham said. “Much like an insurance plan, bringing all aspects of the industry together has helped build a plan we hope never to need to implement.”