by SUSAN MANN
Despite having the most confirmed cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus of any province in Canada, Ontario is gradually winning the battle against the piglet-killing disease, says the province’s deputy chief veterinarian.
David Alves says the collaborative efforts by veterinarians, farm groups, government, farmers, and many people in the swine sector to fight the disease in Ontario coupled with the province’s preparedness and the resources put towards fighting the virus “have been instrumental in responding to and limiting the spread of PED in Ontario.”
He made the comments Tuesday during Ontario Pork’s one hour telephone town hall meeting to update the industry on porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus in the province.
PED was first confirmed on an Ontario farm in Middlesex County Jan. 22. Since then there have been 58 confirmed cases on farms mainly in southwestern Ontario and one in eastern Ontario. Positive samples have also been found in other locations across Ontario, such as assembly and transportation yards and processors’ facilities. The Ontario agriculture ministry says in the PED section on its website, cleaning and disinfecting are heightened where positive samples are found.
There have also been confirmed cases across Canada, including Manitoba, which has had one case on a farm and several positive PED samples at other locations. Quebec and Prince Edward Island have also had one confirmed case each on a farm.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Swine Health Advisory Board has started a province-wide PED Area Regional Control and Elimination program, says veterinarian Marty Misener of South West Ontario Veterinary Services. The PED program is similar to that used for PRRS (Porcine Reproduction and Respiratory Syndrome). The PRRS program is used to understand how the PRRS virus is moving and changing among herds in Ontario and to assist in recognizing if there’s an increase in the prevalence of the regional PRRS virus strains.
For PED, “we are focusing initially and primarily on sites that have been affected by PED or are linked to cases through downstream pig flow,” he says, noting “sign up by any producer is available at any time.”
Alves says in Ontario, some farms have multiple sites that are infected but “the rate of new cases is currently slowing down. Most of the affected farms are recovering as the herd immunity and indeed the provincial immunity to PED increases.”
Ontario Pork chair Amy Cronin says “our ultimate goal is still to eliminate PED from Ontario.”
Ontario Pork’s working group, made up of representatives from Ontario Pork, the Ontario Swine Health Advisory Board, University of Guelph and the Ontario agriculture ministry, has been focused on implementing a PED prevention, detection and response mitigation strategy targeted at six critical control points – assembly yards, federal and provincial processing plants, provincial abattoirs, dead animal handling, farms and transportation.
Alves says the increase in immunity across Ontario is “due to a lot of tireless day-to-day work out there by both the producers and the veterinarians.”
The virus does not affect food safety and doesn’t pose a risk to human health or other animals besides pigs. Pork is still a safe choice for consumers to eat. But it is considered an emerging significant production disease in Ontario. The Ontario agriculture ministry says in an April 17 update, veterinarians are required to report suspected cases to the ministry. PED causes vomiting and diarrhea in pigs along with high death losses of almost 100 per cent in nursing piglets. Older pigs get widespread diarrhea but can recover.
Alves says the Ontario sector’s broad scale and prompt response in the province has helped to limit the direct impact of PED. “The direct impact of PED (in Ontario) has been far less than in the United States.”
According to an April 29 article on Ontario Pork’s website, PED has spread to 30 states in America and killed seven million pigs since it first showed up there in Ohio last May.
American packing plants will generate about two per cent less pork this year because of the disease.
As for how the first Ontario farm got PED, Alves says the likely vector of the outbreak is the feed ingredient - porcine blood plasma. “The later cases that we’re seeing, in our view, are the result of low-grade infections and some biosecurity breaks associated with older hogs in the production cycle.”
Grand Valley Fortifiers’ early and voluntary withdrawal of the suspected feed ingredient in February “was quite possibly the most critical factor in reducing the entire impact to our industry,” he says.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said March 3 its studies confirmed the porcine blood plasma from feed samples taken from farms with positive cases contained PED virus capable of causing disease in pigs. But the study couldn’t demonstrate the feed pellets containing the blood plasma were capable of causing the disease.
Alves says Ontario “fully supports the CFIA in their efforts to discuss with the United States Department of Agriculture how to ensure the safety of swine feed ingredients coming into Canada.”
Debbie Barr, acting director of CFIA’s animal health, welfare and biosecurity division, says the agency’s national emergency operations centre has completed its feed investigation. The investigations’ final report is being prepared “and will have to go through internal approval but there’s an expectation that a summary document will be available for distribution once that process is finished.” She didn’t give a date for the report’s release.
About the special federal/provincial Growing Forward 2 program specifically set up to fund biosecurity projects to help with PED, Alves says the program is “helping to contain the virus as the immunity builds across the province.” There have been more than 1,000 applications to the program, which closed March 13. “This represents about a $9 million investment.”
About 85 per cent of the projects are being done by farmers, who are improving things such as pressure washers, wash bays, water heaters for barns, Danish entry systems, deadstock handling, composting, and entrances to farms, he says.
He says its critical farmers maintain ongoing vigilance and report the disease to their veterinarians early. It’s also critical they maintain their heightened biosecurity protocols, including cleaning and disinfecting. BF