USDA-trained canine becoming swine’s best friend


By Justin Walker

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is getting an unlikely ally in keeping an unwanted disease out of the country.

USDA-trained detector dogs are being used to protect American agriculture from harmful diseases such as African Swine Fever (ASF).

The canines, known as the “Beagle Brigade,” are used by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Plant Protection and Quarantine program and the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to search for banned agricultural products entering the U.S. at airports, land border crossings and mail and cargo facilities.

“African Swine Fever is a devastating, deadly disease affecting all kinds of pigs, both domestic and wild, and keeping our pork industry safe is a top priority,” Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, said. “Recently, our collaboration with CBP proved successful when a USDA-trained detector dog intercepted a roasted pig head in traveler baggage from Ecuador. The quick work of a beagle and the CBP staff prevented a potential animal health issue and further highlighted the need to be vigilant in safeguarding the U.S. against foreign animal diseases.”

ASF, which is most commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa, has recently spread to parts of China and the European Union, increasing concerns of a possible infestation in the U.S.

Safeguards to prevent the disease from entering the country have been implemented by USDA, which include:

Collaborating with states, industry and farmers to ensure everyone follows on-farm biosecurity and best practices (including for garbage feeding in states where that is allowed);

Restricting imports of pork and pork products from affected countries; and

Working with CBP staff at ports of entry to train their inspection dogs, as well as increasing screening vigilance to pay particular attention to passengers and products arriving from affected countries.

“Because there’s no treatment or vaccine available for this disease, we must work together to prevent this disease from entering the United States in order to best protect our farmers, our consumers and our natural resources,” Perdue said. “Good biosecurity is key to protecting pigs from any disease. We know the swine industry has many biosecurity resources available for their producers, so it’s just a matter of making sure everyone follows the guidance, every day, every time. Our goal is to never have to respond to African Swine Fever.”

Response actions are being made by USDA in preparation for disease entering the county.

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