Research truck hits the highway in U.S. to test virus viability

Veterinarians set out to learn more about animal disease survival in common transportation situations and feed types

The truck carrying one-ton totes of soy-based pig feed is travelling a not-uncommon commercial route this month from Minneapolis to Des Moines, Denver, Albuquerque, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Washington D.C., Buffalo and Chicago.

It will take 21 days to cover 9,660 kilometres across 14 states and its journey and purpose had to be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture before a wheel was turned.

What’s so important about a load of pig feed? This particular batch was infused with several viruses — porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED), porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and Seneca Valley virus — that are dangerous and even deadly to pigs. It is part of research to test the viability of viruses within hog feed in transport.

Dr. Scott Dee, director of applied research with Pipestone Veterinary Services, confirmed seven years ago that PED could spread via feed.

Much has been learned since then about managing feed risk, Dee told participants in a Jan. 5 session of the online Banff Pork Seminar.

With African swine fever as the latest potential threat to North American pigs, more must be learned about how or whether viruses survive in common transport situations and feed types.

When the truck has completed its round-trip journey later this month, the feed will be sampled and results evaluated. Most previous research on the subject has been lab-based, Dee said.

“This is a national commercial route that feed would travel (that will) also expose these viruses to very different environments — cold weather up north, up in the mountains, warmer weather down south and then transitioning back into cold weather.

“So we really want to allow these viruses to feel humidity, to feel temperature and variations in those parameters as it moves around the United States, again simulating an actual delivery.”

The viruses are inserted in the totes as small ice cubes that eventually create a virus “hot spot” similar to what would occur in real conditions. At the end of the journey, researchers will use grain probes to extract samples for testing. Dee said results are expected early next year.

“What we’ve done with this study is, our totes are the only materials on the truck and the truck doesn’t stop anywhere” except for the driver to sleep and refuel.

“There’s no agricultural stops being made. There’s no on-and-off going on. We’ve also talked to the centre for veterinary measures at the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and our USDA about this protocol. We got approval from them. We label the tote saying this is not going into a commercial feeding and they’re basically just being destroyed after we’re done with them.”

Dee’s earlier research and that of colleagues has shown that many viruses can survive for months in soy-based feed, depending on conditions.

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