By Rachel Lane
Washington, DC — Feral pigs, water fowl and nutria dominated the conversation at a House hearing regarding invasive species.
Experts from around the U.S. spoke before the Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee about the need to have funding and support to battle the invasive animals and keep communication between different agencies operating. Feral pigs are a problem spreading from rural areas of the southeast to cities. Water fowl fly over the entire U.S. while migrating. Nutria, rodents always found near wetlands, was brought into California for fur trapping.
These animals carry diseases. The mingling of Asian water fowl with North American water fowl in the far northern parts of the continent was the cause of the 2014-2015 Avian Influenza, AI, outbreak that cost U.S. farmers billions. The outbreak allowed China to deny imports of U.S. poultry for years. The ban was lifted in November.
Nothing can be done to stop the water fowl from flying over the country, said Dr. Beth Thompson, executive director Minnesota Board of Animal Health. Instead, three things were highlighted by the outbreak: surveillance and communication, response planning, and biosecurity. All three areas were in place to some extent at the time of the outbreak, but the measures have been strengthened.
The outbreak of AI impacted 110 Minnesota farms and caused more than nine million birds to be killed or die. Thompson said it was estimated that the economic impact to Minnesota alone was more than $650 million.
Biosecurity measures on farms have changed, too. After the AI outbreak, researchers looked at the different ways the disease was introduced to the flocks and one decision was reached, she said. Many of the early outbreaks seemed to be traced to direct exposure to the wild birds, but later exposures were traced to trucks, clothing, and other carrier methods.
There was a response plan in place. As a result, some days, the farmers, ranchers, community members, veterinarians were joined by 500 responders. Thompson said the response was the result of months and years of preparation.
“We need to keep disease out of the barns,” Thompson said. “All poultry sectors have recognized the need for increased biosecurity and the National Poultry Improvement plan has adopted minimum standards for our farmers to follow.”
Hog farms already have intense biosecurity measures in place and part of the cause is the feral pig population that is found in different parts of the country.
The feral pigs can carry diseases, damage ecosystems and, a few weeks ago, killed a woman walking home from work.
Ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said farmers, ranchers and landowners have been dealing with feral pigs for decades, but it is no longer a problem isolated to rural America. Last year, Dallas City Council members signed a three year contract to deal with feral pigs on city property.
He said the feral pigs reproduce at such a fast rate that two-thirds of the feral swine population would need to be killed every year to maintain the population.
The 2018 Farm Bill did establish the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program, Conaway said. More than $75 million was earmarked to fight the problem.
More money is needed for APHIS and CPB, too, said Kurt Reichert, fumigation director for Western Fumigation in Lester, Pa. His firm fumigates perishable commodities such as grapes, citrus, pineapples and bananas to eliminate invasive species which may be hidden within the shipment. The firm also fumigates non-perishable goods.
He said APHIS and CPB help limit invasive species.
“Current staffing cannot reasonably be expected to be able to examine the amount of cargo they handle in a thorough manner,” he said. “The ever increasing amount of goods imported from China are of particular concern, as most of the recent invasive species have originated from there.”
Rep. Jim Costa, chairman of the agriculture subcommittee said the hearing was not just about controlling invasive species domestically but about the steps importers and exporters take to keep invasive species from entering the country.
"In California, expanding nutria populations damage wetlands and farmlands, and wild birds have played a role in introducing Newcastle Virus into poultry flocks, while in other states, these animals have been linked to similar damage and disease,” he said. He hopes the attempt to address the feral swine population can be used as a pilot program to control other invasive species.
"Along our southern border and at our ocean ports, the seasonal nature of our specialty crop industry means trucks and barges carrying fruits and vegetables from outside of the U.S. are potential vectors for dangerous pests that have not yet established in this country,” Costa said. "For all these reasons and more, I, and many of my colleagues have joined a bill to increase agriculture inspector resources at our ports and other points of entry. We can’t expect Customs and Border Protection or the Department of Agriculture to evolve its capabilities to match these evolving threats without the resources to do so."