March 6, 2019 / 5:39 PM / 15 days ago

U.S. to train more beagles to sniff out deadly hog virus

CHICAGO, March 6 (Reuters) - The U.S. government will increase the number of dogs used to sniff out illegal pork products at airports and seaports in an effort to keep out a contagious hog disease that has spread across Asia and Europe, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Wednesday.

The disease, African swine fever, can kill hogs in just two days. China, home to the world’s largest hog herd, has reported more than 100 cases of the disease in 27 provinces and regions since last August. Efforts to contain the fever have disrupted Chinese pork supplies.

The virus, which does not harm people, has spread to China’s neighbor, Vietnam. Eastern Europe has also suffered an outbreak and Belgium has found the virus in wild boar.

To prevent the disease from entering the United States, the USDA said it will work with Customs and Border Patrol agents to add 60 beagle teams at key U.S. commercial ports, seaports and airports, for a total of 179 teams.

The dogs will help expand arrival screenings as U.S. authorities check cargo for illegal pork products and ensure that travelers who pose a risk to spreading African swine fever (ASF) receive extra inspections, according to the USDA.

“We understand the grave concerns about the ASF situation overseas,” said Greg Ibach, the agency’s undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs.

The USDA will also ramp up inspections of facilities that feed garbage to livestock to ensure the waste is cooked properly to prevent potential disease spread, according to a statement.

Hogs can be infected by African swine fever by direct contact with infected pigs or by eating garbage containing meat and or meat products from infected pigs. (Reporting by Tom Polansek Editing by Phil Berlowitz )

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