DES MOINES, IA., June 4, 2014 - Talk about the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) dominated much of the opening day of World Pork Expo, as the industry tries to get its hands around the disease that has killed an estimated 7 million pigs in the past year and threatens to be just as bad in the year to come. At least three seminars and news conferences were dedicated to the PEDv, and it crept into talks on trade and other issues on just the first day of the annual swine industry gathering here in central Iowa.
“It’s a surprising virus,” Dr. Tom Burkgren with the American Association of Swine Veterinarians told attendees of the first, and what officials hope is the last, PEDv summit. He said while one farm might be doing everything perfectly as far as biosecurity and cleaning measures, it breaks with PEDv. Another farm just down the road that is doing everything wrong might not get PEDv at all.
While Burkgren hopes that last summer’s trend of the virus declining in the hot weather will be repeated this year, there’s no guarantee of it.
“There is some good news: a year ago, I was on this same platform, we didn’t know enough about PED, but today I can say we know a lot about PED virus. But we don’t know enough yet.”
Part of why they still don’t know enough, according to Dr. John Clifford, Chief Veterinary Officer for the USDA and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services, was the decision early on not to stop swine movements or disrupt commerce or even proper reporting of the disease. It’s making the investigation of the disease difficult now. But he says this is not the time to blame, and Clifford thinks it has taught everyone an important lesson.
“I’ve built an organization for the future, and I’m building it now around animal health for all animal agriculture,” he told attendees of the PEDv summit. “I want us to build a model together so that when the next PED comes into this country, we act together and quickly, and we don’t wait to see if disease is going to cause approximately 7 million dead baby pigs.”
Clifford said that while he understands producers’ desire to have confidentiality, he has to have good, solid data in real-time to make the best decisions on how to control the disease.
In another seminar at World Pork Expo, the theme was “PEDv is speaking. Are we listening?” Dr. Dale Polson, a veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica’s swine division, said those who are listening are working together using complementary and coordinated responses, and they are practicing the four C’s: communicating, cooperating, coordinating and collaborating better. But he says the industry as a whole has fallen short too many times in this latest outbreak of disease.
“The four C’s are things we all do to some extent, but from an industry standpoint, we’ve got to do a lot better job than we have been,” he told attentive seminar attendees.
In another news conference on PEDv, Dr. Liz Wagstrom, National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) chief veterinarian, said the good news is the disease has not been an issue for consumers or the food industry. “Our retailers, our restaurants, and our trading partners understand that this is not a food safety issue, not a human health risk,” although it has led to some restrictions on importation of live animals and some feed ingredients.
Dr. Howard Hill, NPPC president and a pork producer and veterinarian from Cambridge, Iowa, admits they were not ready for the disease when it first started to affect swine herds about a year ago.
“When PED attacked our industry, we were very, very poorly prepared for handling this disease,” with no one in the U.S. having worked with the disease and no diagnostic tests for it.
But working with researchers who did have contacts in Asia, where the disease is believed to have originated, and now drafting plans with the National Pork Board to fund and collect swine health data, Hill believes they are better prepared going forward … pretty important when you consider there are a lot more diseases out there that could have even bigger impacts on the U.S. swine herd and the huge export market for American pork producers.
“If this was a foot and mouth disease or a hog cholera that we’re talking about, we’d be having an entirely different conversation. If we can allow a PED virus into our herd, what’s the assurance that we couldn’t also get a foreign animal disease that would be crippling to our industry?”
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