Seizure comes amid reports of African swine fever in China; NPPC releases statement
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced a big seizure on Friday of roughly 1 million pounds of pork smuggled from China, where there’s an ongoing outbreak of African swine fever (ASF). China, home to the world's largest hog herd, has reported 112 outbreaks of the disease in 28 provinces and regions since August, with the vast majority found on farms, with one at a slaughterhouse.
Officials announced the seizure of more than 50 shipping containers during a press conference at a warehouse in Elizabeth, New Jersey, according to nj.com (link). Three rooms were filled wall-to-wall with packages of the illegally smuggled pork products.
“Agriculture specialists made a critical interception of these prohibited animal products, and stopped them from entering the U.S. before they could potentially cause grave damage,” said Troy Miller, director of Customs and Border Protection Field Operations in New York/Newark, according to nj.com.
The Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, run by The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, is among the largest ports of entry in the U.S., and the busiest on the East Coast.
The seizure came amid efforts to thwart the spread of African swine fever, which has killed more than a million pigs in China. The disease has never been reported in the United States, and does not affect humans, but spreads rapidly to domestic pigs and wild boars.
If ASF ever infected American livestock, it could cause $10 billion in damage to the pork industry in just one year, Miller said. "If that meat gets into the United States, that could devastate the whole pork industry. We're talking billions of dollars, not just in lost revenue, but also in lost jobs and eradication efforts,” said Joseph Chopko, a training beagle dog specialist with USDA. Hundreds of beagles are at work at ports of entry in the U.S. and abroad to sniff out bags and boxes carrying meat and plant products.
The million-pounds of pork is the largest agricultural seizure in the U.S., Miller said. More than 100 Customs and Border Protection agricultural specialists and canines from USDA worked to uncover the prohibited food.
The pork was smuggled in various different ways including in ramen noodle bowls to Tide detergent, deputy chief agricultural specialist Basil Liakakos said. In some cases, the packaging matched the product on the manifest, but the contents were prohibited pork. In other instances, the pork was simply packaged among other goods, authorities said.
“This was highly orchestrated,” said Stephen Maloney, the Customs and Border Patrol’s acting port director for the Port of New York/Newark. “There was a conceited effort to conceal here to bring this product in.”
Once all 50 shipping containers have been examined, the confiscated products will be incinerated, Miller said. “I’m quite confident that if is anyone is smuggling illicit items in through Newark, we will continue to identify, seize and destroy the products," Miller said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Anthony Bucci declined to say whether the pork that had been seized contained ASF, citing an "ongoing investigation" into the matter. Initial indications signal the product will be destroyed. USDA's Animal Health & Inspection Service (APHIS) would do any testing. APHIS has not yet made any comments on the development. APHIS has approved 11 National Animal Health Laboratory Network laboratories to test for ASF. USDA has identified another 22 laboratories that would like to add ASF to their approved tests and competencies.
Bucci said the meat was “primarily cured,” and the cargo containers were not refrigerated, according to the North Jersey Record (link).
USDA will continue to investigate the smuggling, and eventually decide what, if any, repercussions China and people involved will face.
Initial trader questions are (1) Were the smuggled products infected with ASF? and (2) Where were the products going; were they headed to U.S. farm country?
Hog prices the past week surged on speculation that China’s herd culling will force the nation to import more U.S. pork. June futures soared 11% in the week ended Friday, a record gain for the contract. Shares of meat producers also climbed.
The National Pork Producers Council released the following statement about the development:
- “We are gratified that CBP's heightened screening efforts detected these illegal imports. Illegal import/export activities like this can't stand and must be met with swift and severe penalties to discourage others from attempting to transport contraband products across our borders.
- “An outbreak of ASF would immediately close U.S. pork export markets, a disastrous outcome for producers already facing trade headwinds.
- “Prevention of ASF is our only defense; we must remain on high alert at our airports and sea ports to prevent the illegal transport of meat products and be diligent in our farm biosecurity protocols.”
Because of the concern over ASF, USDA recently reviewed and further strengthened its longstanding stringent protections against the spread of the disease. These include:
- Collaborating with states, industry and producers 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 Customs and Border Protection staff at ports of entry to increase passenger and baggage screening for prohibited products from affected countries.
ASF is very hardy and can survive long periods in very cold and very hot weather, and even in dried or cured pork products. The strain detected in China is similar to one that infected pigs in eastern Russia in 2017.
"The movement of pig products can spread diseases quickly and it's likely that the movement of such products, rather than live pigs, has caused the spread of the virus to other parts of China," explained Juan Lubroth, FAO's Chief Veterinarian.
In their most recent report, Taiwan states that 7.5% of the pork products confiscated from travelers this month coming from China have tested positive for the ASF virus gene.
In Canada, Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, announced new funding of up to $31 million to increase the number of detector dogs at Canadian airports to help prevent illegally imported meat products from entering into Canada. The funding will allow for 24 additional detector dog teams over five years, bringing the total number to 39 Food, Plant, and Animal Detector Dog Service (DDS) teams.
Canada also announced it is hosting the first international ASF forum in Ottawa from April 30 to May 1, 2019. In collaboration with the United States and supported by leaders from Mexico, the European Union, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), provincial, territorial and state partners, as well as industry.
Link to ASF: What You Need to Know.