Deadly virus could cost hog industry millions

Ontario Pork producers are bracing themselves after two positive cases and a possible third case of PED were discovered in Ontario farms over the past week.

If the virus were to spread across Canada, within one year it would cause an estimated $45 million in damage to the Canadian hog industry, said Amy Cronin, a hog farmer and chair of Ontario Pork.

The first positive case in a 500 sow farrow to finish barn in Middlesex County was announced Jan. 23 and almost 100 percent of the two- to five-day old pigs in the barn have died.

The second case in a 3,000-sow finisher barn in nearby Chatham/Kent region was confirmed on the weekend.

While PED doesn’t affect older pigs as much, 15 to 20 percent of the pigs in the barn are showing clinical signs of vomiting and diarrhea, said Dr. Greg Douglas, Ontario’s chief veterinary officer during a conference call Jan. 27.

Pigs in a third suspected case in a 2,000 head finisher barn, also in the Chatham-Kent region, are showing signs similar to the second case.

Douglas said an ongoing investigation from sampling and surveillance identified other areas of concern and officials are investigating.

“We are still are under the impression there are strategies we can work on to help mitigate and slow the spread of this virus in Ontario. However the confirmed second case and the third under suspicion certainly does change the reality here in Ontario,” said Douglas of Guelph.

Ontario is Canada’s second-biggest hog-producing province, after Quebec.

Olymel, one of Canada’s biggest pork processors, also detected the virus at an unloading dock of its Saint-Esprit slaughter facility northeast of Montreal.

PED is not a concern for food safety or other animals, but it is deadly to young pigs. The disease has been endemic in Asia for years and causes chronic problems. The disease was first identified in the United States and has killed more than three million pigs in the U.S. and infected 15 to 20 percent of the barns.

Cronin said hog producers are worried.

“We do understand this will be tough on the Ontario industry. It all depends on where it goes from here.” The source of the virus is unknown, but Ontario’s chief provincial veterinarian said investigators are retracing the activity of trucks, people and animals on the southwestern Ontario farm.

Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, chief veterinary officer for Canada, said there are no plans to close the border to American pigs. The Canadian pig industry depends on U.S. markets for sales, but few pigs are imported to Canada. It’s likely the virus hitched a ride back on a truck through contaminated manure.

None of the pigs, either dead or alive, have left the farm, but Ontario does not have the legal ability to quarantine the barn. The owners are co-operating to help stop the spread of the disease.

Douglas said they haven’t ruled out any future actions, including introducing regulatory controls.

“As chief veterinarian for Ontario, my chief concern is to prevent the spread of a hazard in a realistic, logical fashion.”

Alberta swine veterinarian Dr. Egan Brockhoff said after the discovery of the first case, Alberta officials carried out an electronic trace and called all producers, and could not find any boars or gilts that moved from Ontario to Alberta in the past month. None of the barns bred purebred pigs for sale.

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