DES MOINES, IOWA, June 5, 2014 - Saying the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) must be dealt with aggressively, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined a new mandatory reporting program for the disease that has killed an estimated 7 million pigs in the past year.
“Producers can't afford, as they have for the past several months, to see millions of pigs die,” Vilsack said in a speech at the World Pork Expo in central Iowa, adding that approximately 10 percent of the swine herd has been lost to PEDv. “This not only impacts and affects producer income, it also obviously affects access to product, which in turn, limits our export opportunities and, in turn, limits the amount of pork available for consumers” pushing up prices that could ultimately turn consumers off pork.
Although most of his audience understood that PEDv only affects the health of pigs, Vilsack made a special effort to make it clear to the larger audience of consumers around the country the disease does not affect humans.
“This is not about human health,” Vilsack said. This is an animal health issue that doesn’t translate into something of concern for consumers. It’s very important that consumers understand that what we are talking about here is viruses that impact the health of pigs, not people.”
Vilsack said the reporting starts immediately, although USDA officials say it will probably take several weeks to get the reporting system in place. USDA will provide approximately $26 million to help producers fight the disease, the secretary said. Here’s a breakdown on how some of the funds will be disbursed:
· $3.9 million to be used by USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to support the development of vaccines
· $2.4 million to a cooperative agreement with states to support management and control activities
· $500,000 to veterinarians to help with development and monitoring of herd management plans and sample collection
· $11.1 million in cost-share funding for producers of infected herds to support biosecurity practices.
· $2.4 million for diagnostic testing
· $1.5 million to National Animal Health Laboratory Network diagnostic laboratories for genomic sequencing for newly positive herds
Vilsack said the swine industry is too important for the country not to take aggressive action. His plan was welcomed by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), which said that the devil is still in the details, and the group would like to see more details about how the mandatory reporting will be implemented.
“All we saw so far is the general announcement. We haven’t seen the details,” Howard Hill, NPPC president and a pork producer and veterinarian from Cambridge, Iowa, told reporters. “We’ll have to see [what those details] look like before we know exactly how this is going to be implemented.”
Another possible issue is the confidentiality of producer information. After a previous incident where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released some farmers’ private information, Vilsack was asked how he can prevent this from happening again.
“We are going to work as best we can to maintain this information in an appropriate way,” he said, adding that the department will probably concentrate on a numerical process and not gather as much personal information. But the bottom line is, producers will have to comply while the government will “do everything we possibly can to operate this in a way that ensures producers understand that it is in their best interest to participate,” he said.
While NPPC officials indicated they believe the new mandatory reporting will work, they, along with representatives from the National Pork Board and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians met with Vilsack prior to his speech and asked for some commitments, including:
· Conducting in-depth investigations to discover the pathway PEDv used to enter the U.S.
· Collaborating with the pork industry to fund, prioritize, coordinate and conduct research on the virus.
· Coordinating with the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the pork industry to enhance the biosecurity of feed and feed ingredients.
· Collaborating with the National Animal Health Laboratory Network to ensure seamless and efficient inter-laboratory communications and data sharing.
· Providing funding for diagnostic testing and viral genetic sequencing to gather information needed to control the disease.
· Providing funding to enhance agricultural biosecurity, including on farms, in packing and processing plants and at U.S. border entry points.
“We’re hopeful the USDA plan will work,” said Hill, adding that the situation is too important for it not to work or for producers to opt out of the mandatory reporting.
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, expressed skepticism about the plan. He said he is concerned about the federal records compiled from this reporting and whether the government would be able to keep the data gathered private under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
“Do we have FOIA protection for our producers or are we going to see animal rights people come in here and capitalize on this particular disease?” King asked.
He said he hopes that recent revelations of the government collecting phone records and the ensuing pushback will help ensure the information is kept confidential. But he’s not confident.
“I don’t think there’s anyone, any public official that would stand up and say, ‘Oh, don’t worry, the federal government can protect your data’ with a straight face,” especially considering what happened in the last year and a half. But King said it’s up to everyone to make the best of it.
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