by MIKE BEAUDIN
Ontario’s pork industry is declaring a partial victory in the battle against porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PED).
Although producers have reported a total of six cases of the virus so far in January and February, the worst is over, said Mike DeGroot, Ontario Pork's national biosecurity coordinator.
“We’re still in and around 10 cases this winter and that's fairly favourable,” said DeGroot in a phone interview. “If we can get through February and March and have less than a handful of new cases I think we're in good position.”
The winter months are the worst for PED because cold weather makes it more difficult to clean and disinfect trucks, boots and other transferable surfaces.
Last year the majority of cases were reported in February through April after the virus was first discovered on a Middlesex County farrow-to-finish operation in January.
According to Ontario Pork’s PED website, there have been 75 confirmed cases of the disease in Ontario to date. The latest confirmed case was Feb. 6 on a finisher barn in Perth County.
The virus does not affect food safety or pose a risk to humans but it’s a major disease in pig production, causing diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration. The disease wipes out all nursing piglets while older piglets can survive.
‘I’m always a bit cautious to say it’s under control because it’s such a highly contagious virus but it’s been fairly well contained since last April,” said DeGroot.
He said it’s important the industry doesn’t let its guard down now that the worst appears over.
Dr. Robert Friendship, a professor at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, said the biosecurity measures adopted over the past year are now common practice. If anything, producers may become too vigilant, he said.
“I’ve never seen biosecurity measures go backwards,” said Friendship in a phone interview. “Producers shouldn’t get so worried that they don’t let anybody near their farm.”
He said the emphasis should remain on truck washing and more care when loading animals. Producers should continue to review their practices, keep up on the latest developments and go over their plan once a year.
DeGroot said the goal is to eliminate PED on Ontario farms but that will take time. The first step is to eliminate it from farms where it broke and then focus efforts on off-farm sites.
“I think the caution for producers and the industry right now is that the virus does hang out well in cold weather, and if you’ve got a trailer coming on your farm that hasn't been properly washed and disinfected that's a high risk.”
He said it’s essential producers make sure trucks coming on their property are disinfected after every visit to a farm or a processing plant.
Friendship said a lot of common-sense solutions have been taken. For example, some trailers weren’t sloped properly when washed down, allowing contaminated water to remain. Drivers now realize they have to disinfect their boots before climbing back into a truck.
“All the players took responsibility and did the very best they could. Farmers were very open and didn’t try to hide the problem and be irresponsible by keeping it quiet. They let people know they had a problem so others could take precautions.”
“We’ve got a lot of expertise in this country,” said Friendship. “It's a matter of getting it down to the farm level. The industry is only as strong as it weakest link. If we have a trucking company or producers who are renegades and not playing along it injures everybody.”
Friendship said a lot of the infrastructure to deal with the disease was already in place. When the outbreak swept through the United States, Canadian officials knew it would eventually spread north, and they adopted measures to contain it.
He said the Ontario reaction to the virus has been a success story.
“It just shows we have a lot of expertise we can mobilize. It’s wonderful that we can send in tests and get results within 24 hours. We have a well organized system.”
Meanwhile, a National Swine Health initiative launched by the Canadian Pork Council in December is still in the process of getting organized, said DeGroot.
The initiative, funded through producer levies, is aimed at bringing key players in the pork industry together from across Canada to limit the spread of viruses, increase communication and monitor surveillance activities.
As well, Genome Alberta, a not-for-profit science funding organization, is putting together a plan that will see Canadian researchers working on how to protect young pigs from PED.
In a news release, Genome Alberta said three research projects will share $650,000 in funding from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and the federal governments.
The projects include developing a vaccine against the virus and how to detect PED in the environment and in food additives.
Much of the research is being done by a private company in Saskatoon, the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Montreal and the National Centres for Animal Disease in Winnipeg.
According to the release, the virus has killed at least eight million piglets in the United States since 2013 and has been found at more than 70 hog farms and pork facilities in Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec and Prince Edward Island.
The American Association of Swine Veterinarians notes on its website there are now three naturally occurring strains of the virus that have been identified there. BF