The Wildlife Services (WS) program of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is leading the effort, tailoring activities to each state’s circumstance and working closely with other Federal, State, Tribal, and local entities. WS works directly with states to control populations, test animals for diseases, and research better methods of managing feral swine damage, including the use of sodium nitrate. A key part of the national program will include surveillance and disease monitoring to protect the health of domestic swine.

Avalos says feral swine have become a serious problem in 78 percent of all states in the country, carrying diseases that can affect people, domestic animals, livestock and wildlife, as well as local water supplies.

In addition to killing young animals, their characteristic rooting and wallowing damages natural resources, including resources used by native waterfowl, and archeological and recreational lands.  Feral swine also compete for food with native wildlife, such as deer, and consume the eggs of ground-nesting birds and endangered species, such as sea turtles.

"In addition to the costly damage to agricultural and natural resources, the diseases these animals carry present a real threat to our swine populations,” Avalos added.  “Feral swine are able to carry and transmit up to 30 diseases and 37 different parasites to livestock, people, pets and wildlife, so surveillance and disease monitoring is another keystone to this program."

He says as part of the national program, APHIS will test feral swine for diseases of concern for U.S. pork producers, such as classical swine fever—which does not exist in the United States—as well as swine brucellosis, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, swine influenza, and pseudorabies.  Ensuring that domestic swine are not threatened by disease from feral swine helps ensure that U.S. export markets remain open.

While USDA-APHIS has yet authorized widespread use of sodium nitrate, field testing of the substance is expected to begin as early as this year.