PED virus demonstrates importance of biosecurity

The spread of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus through Canadian hog farms demonstrates the importance of strong biosecurity protocols for all livestock operations.

Hog producers have some of the strictest biosecurity protocols of any livestock sector in Canada and they are trying to continue improving their biosecurity practices and emergency response planning in an effort to control the spread of PED.

The disease was first diagnosed last May in the United States, and it continues to pave a path of destruction through the country’s pig operations. Now it is spreading in Canada.

The virus poses no risk to human health or food safety, but it is a devastating disease that causes severe acute diarrhea in all ages of pigs and high death rates.

Huge numbers of virus particles are shed in feces. A cross contamination of feed ingredients and livestock trucks is likely involved.

Collaborations between industry and provincial and federal authorities are attempting to control the spread of the disease through en-hanced biosecurity practices.

Biosecurity can be described as all of the management practices that prevent the movement of disease-causing agents between and within livestock operations.

It involves almost all aspects of farm management, including environmental and manure management.

We can develop biosecurity plans for countries, regions or individual farms to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Imagine if a virus such as PED emerged within the beef or dairy cattle population in North America. The results could be catastrophic, and cattle producers’ biosecurity practices would be severely challenged.

The structure of the cattle industry and the greater exposure to the environment makes biosecurity more challenging to implement in cattle herds, but it does not make it any less important.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has worked with producer organizations, provincial-territorial governments and academia to establish national biosecurity standards for most of the country’s livestock industries.

The beef and dairy industries have documents describing how to implement biosecurity practices on individual farms.

Farm workers, family members, service providers and anyone who conducts business with or visits your farm should be made aware of the importance of biosecurity.

Some of the major management areas that the cattle biosecurity standards focus on include:

  • animal health management
  • animal additions and movement
  • premises management and sanitation, which is a focus of the dairy document
  • management of the movement of people, vehicles, equipment and tools
  • education, planning and record keeping

The documents are well worth reading for all cattle producers. They can be found online on the CFIA website.

Good biosecurity practices are just as important for cattle producers as they are for hog and poultry producers. We rely on biosecurity to protect our animals and our livelihood.

Biosecurity protocols are usually fairly simple practices that need to be done right every day of the year. It is always difficult to ascertain the benefits of biosecurity when there are no major outbreaks occurring, but good biosecurity will usually result in less disease and healthier, more productive livestock.

If a new disease emerges, we will be more prepared to deal with limiting its impact.

John Campbell is head of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

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