New rules for Pa. swine shows at county fairs

African Swine Fever quarantine Pennsylvania
Market hogs at all Pennsylvania exhibitions this year must now be sent to slaughter, due to concerns about African Swine Fever. Previously, some market gilts were able to return to the farm for breeding.

(Note: Updated to include further comments from western Pennsylvania fairs as more shows have been canceled.)

SALEM, Ohio — Hog barns at some county fairs will be empty this year after the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture issued new rules on swine exhibition, citing concerns about African Swine Fever.

According to the new requirements laid out in the general quarantine order, market hogs exhibited must now go directly to slaughter after the show and breeding hogs and market hogs cannot be on site at the same time.

The changes were announced to fair boards, 4-H leaders and FFA advisers May 31 and went into effect June 1.

African Swine Fever is a highly contagious and deadly hemorrhagic virus that affects domesticated and wild pigs, but does not affect humans or other animals.

It has not yet been detected in the U.S., but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has stepped up testing for the disease, restricted imports of pork from affected countries and increased U.S. Customs and Border Protection detector dog teams.

Big impact

As a result of the new Pennsylvania rules, several fairs have canceled breeding hog shows in favor of market shows, which usually have subsequent auctions to benefit youth exhibitors in 4-H and FFA.

“The market show has the biggest effect on the 4-H and FFA kids,” said Wayne Hunnell, a Washington County Fair director. “It was easier to cancel the breeding hog show.”

Among the new regulations, breeding hog shows are now required to occur before the arrival of market hogs, and the exhibition facility must be cleaned and decontaminated before any other hogs arrive.

“The only way we could have market hogs then would be to disinfect the entire facility, which is difficult to do when the show arena is sawdust and dirt,” Hunnell said.

Additionally, animals must have a certificate of veterinary inspection within 30 days of the fair and must be visually inspected for signs of disease prior to unloading by an accredited veterinarian.

No changes in Ohio

Ohio will not be changing its swine exhibition rules this year, which requires state and county fairs to have an approved veterinarian on site to monitor animal populations, said Shelby Croft, communications director with the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

About 60 percent of the state’s fairs are already terminal swine shows, including the Ohio State Fair, Croft said. That’s a decision left up to each fair board.

More work, more costs

The new regulations mean added work and added cost to hold hog shows, as well as creating logistical challenges.

Previously at the Washington County Fair, exhibitors had 60 days to get a certificate of veterinary inspection for their pigs, Hunnell said, and hogs could be unloaded straight into the fairgrounds.

Hunnell said they have to bring in a second veterinarian to handle the extra work surrounding the pigs throughout the week. There will be more work too for the volunteers who manage the barn, making sure things stay clean.

And because the market show is terminal, the hogs must go to a state or federally inspected slaughterhouse, which limits the number of slaughterhouses available to them in the immediate area, Hunnell said.

Hunnell expects they’ll see fewer exhibitors than usual in Washington, especially if they raised a gilt. They typically get about 140 market hogs, he said.

“If a gilt showed well, it’d be more valuable as a future breeding hog than sending it to market to be slaughtered,” he said. “If I had a very good gilt, I wouldn’t bring it.”

Other cancellations

Hunnell said the West Alexander Fair, another fair in Washington County, also canceled their breeding hog show. The two fair boards met jointly after the changes came out to figure out how to handle the new regulations.

The Big Butler Fair canceled its swine show entirely. Instead now exhibitors can focus on the 4-H roundup at the Butler Farm Show, which is held later in the summer, said Harold Dunn, secretary of the Big Butler Fair board.

“Anybody that has shown here at the fair typically shows at the farm show. It’s sort of a tune-up here,” Dunn said. “We didn’t want to jeopardize the kids and their projects.”

Ken Laughlin, president of the Butler Farm Show, said they are still working out the details for how to implement the department of agriculture’s new rules.

They cancelled their breeding show and are working with local butchers to ensure the show is terminal, as well as ramping up some biosecurity measures.

“We’re trying to do our best to implement what the department of agriculture wants and to keep a sterile, safe show,” Laughlin said.


African Swine Fever at a glance

What is it?

It is a highly contagious and deadly hemorrhagic virus that affects domesticated and wild pigs. Its symptoms are high fever, loss of appetite, skin lesions, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing and difficulty breathing. Death can occur in five to 10 days.

What isn’t it?

It is not a threat to humans or other animals.

How is it spread?

It is spread through direct contact with infected pigs, their waste and blood. It can also be spread through contaminated clothing, feed, equipment and vehicles.

Where is it?

It had been mostly eliminated worldwide, but the virus was reported in China in August 2018. Since then, it has spread to Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, North Korea and parts of Europe.

Why is it such a concern?

There is no vaccine for African Swine Fever. It has a high mortality rate, nearly 100 percent. If it were to find a way to North America, it could cripple the pork industry.

In China, the world’s largest pork producer and consumer, more than 1 million pigs were culled in an effort to stop the spread of the disease and an unknown number have died from the disease itself. In Vietnam, more than 2.2 million pigs have been culled.

(Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture)


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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.



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