Saturday, March 16, 2019

Feds Seize 1 Million Pounds of Illegal Chinese Pork Products In New Jersey

 Recently Confiscated Items in Taiwan- Credit BAPHIQ


As African Swine Fever continues to spread in China, Vietnam, and across much of Eastern Europe and parts of Russia, one of the big concerns is how to prevent its entry into North America.

In late 2018 the USDA released a new African Swine Fever Factsheet that discusses their preparations for a possible introduction of the virus into this country.

Keeping ASF Out

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 CBP staff at ports of entry to increase passenger and baggage screening for prohibited products from affected countries.
Although ASF has never been reported in North America, the potential for seeing it here someday is quite real, and the costs to agricultural interests could run into the billions. 
Five years ago we saw the arrival of another, less dangerous porcine virus - PEDV  - which is believed to have originated from China (see mBio: PEDV - Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus – An Emerging Coronavirus).
Last September, in African swine fever (ASF) threatens to spread from China to other Asian countries, the FAO described how easily ASF can cross borders, and even oceans.
A robust virus with a long life

The ASF virus 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 but, so far, and while the investigations continue, the China Animal Health and Epidemiology Center has found no conclusive evidence of this latest outbreak's source or linkages.

"The movement of pig products can spread diseases quickly and, as in this case of African Swine Fever, 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.
Which is why, for months we've been following reports of dozens of interdictions of illegal (and sometimes ASF positive) pork products carried by travelers from China - and recently Vietnam - into places like Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Australia.
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.
On a far grander scale, overnight multiple news agencies are reporting on the raid and seizure by US Customs and Border Protection officers of a record-setting cache of smuggled pork products from China at the Port of Newark, NJ.

A couple representative headlines, and links.  First from Bloomberg:
U.S. Seizes 1 Million Pounds of Smuggled Chinese Pork
By Michael Hirtzer
March 15, 2019, 6:58 PM EDT
  • Seizure come as African swine fever ravages China hog herd
  • Largest-ever agriculture seizure in history: U.S. Customs
U.S. federal agents seized 1 million pounds (454 metric tons) of pork smuggled from China to a port in New Jersey amid fears the meat could contain traces of the African swine fever virus that has ravaged the Asian country’s hog herd.
(Continue . . . )
 And from
Feds seize 1 million lbs. of pork smuggled from China to N.J. port amid African swine fever outbreak
Updated Mar 15, 3:38 PM; Posted Mar 15, 1:47 PM
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 good, 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.”
       (Continue . . . )

So far, we've no word on whether any of these confiscated pork products have tested positive for the ASF gene, but even limited testing on this quantity of products could take some time.

While this seizure by Customs officials represents a bullet successfully dodged,  history tells us there are undoubtedly many more rounds in the chamber. Over the years we've looked at some of the extreme methods people have used to smuggle food products into the United States, and elsewhere around the world.
  • In 2015's A Quail Of A Tale the U.S. Customs Agency intercepted 26 pounds of raw quail eggs at Boston's Logan Airport in the luggage of a traveler from Vietnam, who declared the items, apparently unaware of the danger they posed.
  • In May of 2013, in All Too Frequent Flyers, we saw a Vietnamese passenger, on a flight into Dulles Airport, who was caught with 20 raw Chinese Silkie Chickens in his luggage.
  • The following month we saw a traveler (see Vienna: 5 Smuggled Birds Now Reported Positive For H5N1) attempt to smuggle 60 live birds into Austria from Bali, only to have 39 die in transit, and five test positive for H5N1.   Fortunately, no humans were infected. 
  • In 2012, in Taiwan Seizes H5N1 Infected Birds, we learned of a smuggler who was detained at Taoyuan international airport in Taiwan after arriving from Macau with dozens of infected birds. Nine people exposed to these birds were observed for 10 days, and luckily none showed signs of infection.  
  • In 2011, in Bushmeat,`Wild Flavor’ & EIDs, we looked at the illegal trade in exotic food, including bats, monkeys, large rats, crocodiles, small antelopes and pangolins. 
  • Incredibly, in 2010, two men were indicted for attempting to smuggle dozens of song birds (strapped to their legs inside their pants) into LAX from Vietnam (see Man who smuggled live birds strapped to legs faces 20 years in prison).
Last August, CIDRAP News reported on a recent study in the Journal Virology which found Repeated detection of H7N9 avian influenza viruses in raw poultry meat illegally brought to Japan by international flight passengers. The article states:
This is the first report detailing the isolation of H7N9 from raw meat products outside mainland China and suggests that the illegal transport of poultry is a possible cause of the spread of the virus in Asia, the authors wrote.
Whether for personal consumption, for profits, or even for purposes of Agro-terrorism - the threats from the illegal importation of illegal food products,  agricultural diseases, and/or invasive species are very real - and when successful - could prove disastrous to agricultural interests.

The reality is, as ASF continues to spread across Asia and parts of Europe, the opportunities for it to reach North America are only going to increase over time. 

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