Pork producers must enhance biosecurity

Officials flag increased risk of deadly PED virus

Pork producers must learn to be more vigilant than a Russian security guard at the Sochi Olympics if they want to keep porcine epidemic diarrhea out of Canada.

Pork officials and veterinarians believe the deadly PED virus, which became a reportable disease in Alberta Jan. 20, will likely sneak across the border from the United States on a cattle or pig truck.

“Trucking is one of our biggest risks, especially from the U.S. where there is this disease,” swine veterinarian Dr. Egan Brockhoff said during an Alberta Pork telephone conference call on PED Jan. 17.

“Enhanced biosecurity is the best way to prevent this virus from entering Canada and certainly from entering your farm.”

PED was discovered in the U.S. nine months ago and has since killed three million pigs. It is believed to have affected 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. pork industry, causing millions of dollars in damage.

“It has been insanely devastating to the U.S. pork industry,” said Brockhoff of Prairie Swine Health Services.

Brockhoff said the results can be devastating if the virus gets into a new herd especially in a sow barn. Mortality in young pigs is almost 100 percent.

Infection can cause acute outbreaks of severe watery diarrhea and vomiting.

The disease is often more subtle in a grower finisher barn, where it’s harder to identify and mortality rates are low. As a result, the infection can be missed.

“We encourage producers to take responsibility themselves to ensure all trucks coming onto their farms have been cleaned, disinfected and dried adequately,” said Brockhoff, who has worked with the PED virus in the U.S. and Asia.

“This is something you should be asking your trucker, especially if they have any connection at all with the U.S.”

It’s estimated that PED could cause $13 to $50 million of damage to the Quebec hog industry, depending on how quickly it spread, Dr. Lucie Verdon, a veterinarian with the Canadian Swine Health Board, said on the conference call.

PED doesn’t infect humans and is not a food safety or public health concern.

Alberta Pork is working with its counterparts across the country to keep the virus out of Canada, which includes hosting telephone conference calls with farmers about the disease. Almost 134 pork producers and industry officials logged on to the call to learn more about PED.

Alberta Pork chair Frank Novak said PED might be the defining moment for the pork industry this year.

“It’s really important we do everything to protect our industry,” said Novak, who farms near Sherwood Park.

“The message is pretty clear. There will be a moment when the bug finds its way across the border. The important thing is to keep it from grabbing hold and spreading from there. We all have to do our part.”

Alberta Pork executive director Darcy Fitzgerald said PED is one of the biggest threats to the industry.

He said the most important thing producers can do is work with veterinarians and audit their biosecurity practices around transport trucks.