The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is working to throw up a “protection zone” around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to insulate the U.S. pork sector in the event that African Swine Fever jumps from the Dominican Republic to either of the U.S. territories.

U.S. pork producers are increasingly concerned that foreign countries could use an ASF outbreak in a U.S. territory like Puerto Rico as an excuse to ban pork from the U.S. mainland.

APHIS says it is working with the World Health Organization out of an “abundance of caution” to establish the zone in order to “further safeguard the U.S. swine herd and protect the interests and livelihoods of U.S. pork producers.”

The World Health Organization, which goes by the French acronym OIE, evaluates the livestock disease status for countries.

“ASF has not been detected in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, and USDA is committed to keeping it out of both islands and the rest of the United States,” APHIS said.  

The National Pork Producers Council issued a statement Thursday saying that if the OIE agrees to the designation, it will allow the U.S. “to maintain its current animal health status should there be a detection of (ASF) or other foreign animal disease on the island territories.”

APHIS stressed confidence OIE will agree to the “protection zone” designations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. After that happens, the USDA agency said it will “work to confirm that individual countries recognize and accept the zones. Their recognition will ensure the continued flow of U.S. pork and live swine exports.”

USDA's Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory confirmed finding ASF in the Dominican Republic on July 28, but the virus is suspected to have been circulating in the country for months before the discovery. While the Dominican Republic is roughly a thousand miles from the U.S., it’s a lot closer to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

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“We thank (Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack) for taking this pre-emptive step to preserve the continuity of U.S. pork exports as we continue to work together to prevent the spread of African swine fever to the United States,” said NPPC President Jen Sorenson in a statement released Thursday. “We have significantly bolstered U.S. biosecurity defense against ASF since it began spreading in the Asia-Pacific region nearly three years ago and must re-double our efforts given the recent outbreak in the Dominican Republic.”

USDA and Customs and Border Protection are already increasing efforts to keep ASF out of the U.S. territories, but APHIS says the protection zone will make it easier to “restrict movement of live swine and products out of the protection zone; conduct appropriate surveillance within the protection zone to quickly detect introductions of disease; conduct a public education campaign relating to biosecurity on farms and other establishments, prohibitions on movement of live swine and products outside the region, contacting authorities to report clinical cases, and similar actions.” 

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