One truth about livestock production is that manure is easily spread.
We’re not talking about mechanical manure spreading, here. We’re talking about how manure can travel on boots, clothing, buckets, other animals, tires and trucks.
When microscopic amounts of it can carry a deadly hog virus, as is the case with porcine epidemic diarrhea, the risk of unwanted manure transportation looms large.
Nevertheless, hog producers in the three western-most provinces have managed to remain PED-free. It is a testament to the value of producers’ biosecurity protocols and to the communication and swine health support provided by Canadian hog associations, livestock transport companies and the veterinary community.
It has also fostered extensive research into vaccines against the virus, one of which is featured elsewhere in this issue.
PED was first identified in the United States in 2013 and has since killed millions of piglets in that country.
Canada had the benefit of advance warning after watching the U.S. experience, but given that thousands of pigs cross the international border every day, aboard trucks coming and going, infection on this side of the line was almost inevitable.
Ontario and Quebec have borne the brunt of PED’s scourge in Canada, and 10 Manitoba operations have also been affected. Most have fought back and rid their barns of the virus but more infection could ride in on the next livestock trailer or manure-laden boot that enters the country.
The magnitude of the risk has given rise to systems of disease surveillance and networks of people in the swine industry that communicate regularly about animal health, biosecurity and research.
By regularly sharing information on various aspects of swine production, the industry is able to better prepare and protect itself against all swine health threats, including PED.
Such careful attention isn’t easy and it isn’t cheap. But it has paid off.
For starters, it has potentially saved millions of piglets from suffering a painful death through malnutrition, dehydration and starvation, the hallmarks of PED.
It has impressed producers with the importance of biosecurity, allowing them to protect their herds and maintain operations. Steady supplies of pigs provide stability for the processing industry and the jobs it creates.
Most important from an economics perspective is the assurance of swine health that the Canadian industry can provide, by virtue of these networks, to more than 100 countries that buy Canadian product.
About 70 percent of Canada’s pigs and pork are exported. They were worth $3.4 billion in 2015.
So in one sense, the arrival and continuing threat of PED infection has allowed the Canadian industry to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, in a manner of speaking. It provided the impetus to create swine health and production networks that can alert and protect the industry, its producers, its animals and its trade position.
For that, it is to be congratulated, with every hope for its continued success.