KANSAS CITY (B)--The United States and Canada are taking steps to ensure swine breeding animals and semen imported from the United Kingdom does not infect North American hog herds. Tracking the origin of the disease is of primary importance because a severe outbreak in the Netherlands three years ago was linked to porcine semen, according to swine experts. The United Kingdom is also assisting in containing the disease by voluntarily halting exports of pork or other products derived from pigs.

Swine fever, also known as hog cholera and caused by a highly contagious virus, is distinguished in most cases by high fever and skin hemorrhaging. Usually, pigs die within a week after infection, and the virus can be transmitted by various means including hog-to-hog contact, infected pens and by passive transmission on the feet of man or other animals. Animals testing positive for the disease are typically destroyed.

Britain's agriculture minister and the country's pork industry is still trying to pinpoint the source of the infection, which had not been a cause of concern in the United Kingdom for 14 years. Since the disease was detected in early August and confirmed Aug. 9, a total of about 10,500 pigs have been slaughtered or are earmarked for slaughter under a government program.

Jacques Pomerleau, executive director of Canada Pork International, that country's pork export agency, said the food inspection service is working to ensure swine breeders are not exposed to imports of infected products, such as breeding animals, embryos and genetic materials that could jeopardize domestic production.

Several swine breeding genetics companies such as Cotswald and PIC Intl. operate in Britain where porcine semen and other genetic products are developed and shipped internationally--including to the U.S. and Canada.

Pomerleau said one of the lessons learned in the aftermath of the devastating 1997 Netherlands swine fever outbreak was the virus was passed through semen--which was overlooked in the past.

According to Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands, nearly 11 million pigs were either wiped out by the disease or had to be destroyed. That cost the industry an estimated $2.3 billion.

Laura Sanchez, a spokeswomen with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, which is responsible for searching and monitoring foreign agricultural products for disease and pests, said the United Kingdom voluntarily halted pork shipments and related products Aug. 8, including porcine semen and laboratory products. Anything shipped and received at U.S. port of calls prior to that date will be detained at U.S. ports of call.

According to APHIS, UK exporters are not required to have individual permits to ship product to the U.S., rather one that is accepted for an entire year. Sanchez said the inspection service is monitoring the situation and is not aware of outstanding U.K. shipment permits at this time for pork semen. What's more, health certification and inspection is mandatory for all product's arriving at U.S. ports.

Tracking the disease and keeping it contained has become a coordinated effort for some of the United Kingdom's European Union partners. Although the United Kingdom has not requested APHIS assistance, the agency would be more than happy to assist in detecting and containing the disease, Sanchez said.

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