Heat and robots tapped as a line of defence against PED

Researchers are hoping that heat and robots will form a deadly line of defence in the fight to control porcine epidemic diarrhea, a potentially deadly swine disease that has cost the North American swine industry billions of dollars.

Terry Fonstad, associate dean of research and partnerships at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Engineering, says a multi-year research project is hoping to determine whether baking livestock trailers at temperatures of 75C or greater for a period of 15 minutes will kill pathogens, including the PED virus, in real-world conditions.

The baking process — already proven effective under controlled conditions — would be used in conjunction with robotic trailer cleaners to eliminate or greatly reduce the risk of transmitting porcine diseases through contaminated livestock trailers.

Fonstad is leading a team of researchers developing systems that will be tested and potentially rolled out for industry adoption within the next few years.

Other participants in the project include the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization — International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-Intervac) at the University of Saskatchewan, which is providing pathogen destruction research, the Prairie Swine Centre, which is looking at ways to standardize the design of hog trailers for improved animal welfare and more efficient cleaning, and the Prairie Agriculture Machinery Institute (PAMI), which is developing a robotic cleaning system that would require less time, labour and water to clean the livestock trailers after they’ve been used to transport pigs.

A Guelph-based company called Transport Genie is also involved in the research.

Transport Genie uses remote sensing technology to gather data on the environmental conditions in livestock trailers.

An upgraded version of Transport Genie’s current monitoring system would be used to verify that all parts of the trailer are being exposed to recommended temperatures during the trailer baking process.

The system could also be used to track the movement of trailers after they’ve been disinfected.

“Livestock trailers themselves are very hard to clean just because of the way they’re built,” Fonstad said.

“They’re built with rivetted aluminum and perforations to let air through so there’s all kinds of nooks and crannies where things can get caught.

“It’s not that the industry isn’t doing a good job of cleaning trailers but there’s just so many spots where you can hide a bacteria or a pathogen… even if it looks clean.”

Concerns over the transmission of porcine diseases during transport have grown since PED was discovered in North America in 2013.

The disease, which affects the intestinal function of pigs, causes dehydration, diarrhea, weight loss, and, in some cases, death.

The spread of the disease has cost the North American swine industry billions of dollars in animal losses and heightened biosecurity efforts.

Health regulations now require that all vehicles used to transport pigs be cleaned and disinfected before they cross the Canada-U.S. border.

The swine industry has been doing a good job of washing and disinfecting hog trailers, Fonstad said, but cleaning the trailers is time consuming and costly and results are not guaranteed.

Fonstad began to explore the potential of thermally assisted drying and disinfection a few years ago after an initial research collaboration with veterinary disease experts at VIDO-Intervac.

“This initial work indicated there’s a pretty good chance that if we heat all of those pathogens to above 75C for 15 minutes, they’ll be inactivated,” Fonstad said.

Laboratory research confirmed the concept.

The next phase of the project, funded by Swine Innovation Porc through the Swine Cluster 3 program, aims to “verify whether the baking process can reliably destroy pathogens in real-world conditions, in a variety of trailer types and cleaning facilities, summer and winter,” Fonstad said.

Collaborators at PAMI are designing a robotic cleaning system that can quickly, effectively and affordably remove bedding, manure and other debris prior to the baking process.

The Prairie Swine Centre is developing guidelines for standardizing the construction of livestock trailers.

Industry-wide use of standardized trailers would better accommodate robotic cleaning and thermal disinfection procedures and would ensure more predictable results.

Fonstad said heating systems are already being used by the transportation industry to dry trailers after they have been cleaned.

In many cases, trailers could be exposed to higher temperatures without major retrofits to existing buildings and heating systems, he said.

Transport Genie’s technology would play a key role in ensuring consistent temperatures are reached at all parts of the trailer during the baking process.

Transport Genie’s technology is already being tested in the livestock transportation industry to monitor environmental conditions inside stock trailers.

Hardware modifications are being made so that the equipment performs at higher temperatures.

“This collaboration is a significant opportunity for us to demonstrate the value and utility of Transport Genie technology, and to advance our mission to improve the agricultural system by … capturing and sharing data all along the supply chain,” said Joel Sotomayor, president and chief executive officer of Transport Genie Ltd.

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