EDMONTON — Frank Novak said if he was a gambling man, he would bet that the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus will show up in Alberta.
“When you have as many moving parts as we have in the livestock industry in Western Canada, there are so many opportunities, literally hundreds and hundreds every day, for someone to make one small mistake and let this bug get into our province,” the chair of Alberta Pork said during an announcement of funding to help keep the virus out of the province.
“It’s a bug that is so easy to move and there is so much trade back and forth across the Canada-U.S. border. It is inevitable there will be times when the bug will make it across the border.… We’re trying our very best. This money allows us to do a bit better.”
Alberta Pork received $1.35 million from the federal and provincial governments to boost its biosecurity programs.
The money will be used to update the organization’s swine risk assessment, train veterinarians to perform on-farm biosecurity audits and develop educational materials for producers and industry officials about best biosecurity practices.
PED has been confirmed in 30 U.S. states and has killed more than five million piglets. In Canada, it has been found on 54 farms in Ontario, two farms in Manitoba, one in Quebec and one in Prince Edward Island.
“It is a very virulent bug. Our veterinarian calls it angry virus. It is very easy to spread,” said Novak, who credits Western Canada’s excellent biosecurity system on hog farms as the reason it hasn’t arrived in Alberta barns.
Alberta agriculture minister Verlyn Olson said the money is intended to help Alberta’s 380 pork producers prevent the disease from entering the province.
“We want to make sure the industry stays sustainable, healthy and vibrant,” said Olson.
Alberta produces 2.3 million market hogs a year.
“We are working very hard to prevent the entry of that disease into Alberta … and have a plan to react if anything untoward should happen.”
Novak said the funding comes at a critical time. Few producers could withstand the financial and psychological stress of finding the disease in their barn after years of tough financial times.
“There is a sense of guarded optimism about the future after a series of very challenging years,” he said.
Hog transportation has been identified as one of the biggest ways in which PED is spread. The funding will help the industry work with truck wash facilities, abattoirs and slaughter plants to reduce the risk of the disease spreading.
PED mostly affects baby pigs, and the mortality rate is almost 100 percent for at least four weeks after the virus enters a farrowing barn until there is a buildup of antibodies.
“You can imagine the devastation both financially but psychology of the people whose livelihood is taking care of animals, and they sit there on the farm, once that bug has been confirmed, knowing that every single baby born on that farm will die. That’s devastating,” Novak said.
Producers have stepped up security since the North American outbreak started, including ensuring all trucks are washed, disinfected and dried before loading other pigs.
It’s estimated 25,000 to 30,000 trucks a year move pigs in Alberta. They must now all be washed, dried and disinfected. It costs $500 to $800 to wash a truck thoroughly.
The new rules mean trucks sometimes must wait eight hours for their turn at the truck wash, said Novak, who has boosted biosecurity at his pork operation.
“Every single vehicle that comes near any one of our farms now has to be certified as being washed, disinfected, dried and tested by a third party auditor,” he said.