CHICAGO - Bettie the beagle, a detector dog for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, picked up the scent of pork on a woman arriving from China at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
Soon the dog’s handler discovered and confiscated a ham sandwich in the purse of a passenger who had flown on a China Eastern Airlines flight from Shanghai.
The danger? That the food might be contaminated with African swine fever and spread the disease to the United States. China has lost millions of pigs in outbreaks of the disease, pushing its pork prices to record highs, forcing purchases of costly imports and roiling global meat markets.
“It’s very likely it may come here if we aren’t more vigilant,” said Jessica Anderson, the handler for the pork-sniffing dog and an agricultural specialist for the border protection agency.
Bettie is among an expanded team of specially trained beagles at U.S. airports, part of a larger effort to protect the nation’s $23 billion pork industry from a disease that has decimated China’s hog herd, the world’s largest. Governments worldwide are scrambling to shore up their defenses as the disease spills over China’s borders, according to Reuters reporting from nine countries. The efforts underscore the grave threat to global agriculture.
African swine fever has spread to Southeast Asia and eastern Europe, with cases found in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Korea, Myanmar, the Philippines, Poland, Belgium and Bulgaria. Around the globe, those countries and others that have so far sidestepped the epidemic are cracking down on travelers, increasing cargo screenings and banning meat imports.