by SUSAN MANN
The Cambridge-based livestock nutrition company, Grand Valley Fortifiers, made the right decision last month to voluntarily recall its pelleted nursery feeds containing porcine blood plasma, says CEO and president Ian Ross.
He made the statement by email to Better Farming after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced on March 3, and before that on Feb. 18, that its testing has demonstrated the American-sourced porcine blood plasma used by Grand Valley in its pelleted nursery feed products “contained PED (porcine epidemic diarrhea) virus capable of causing disease in pigs.”
But in its March 3 announcement, CFIA says its study couldn’t “demonstrate that the feed pellets containing the blood plasma were capable of causing disease.”
The agency has now concluded that scientific testing “cannot confirm a link between feed containing blood plasma and porcine epidemic diarrhea cases in Canada.”
Still, Ross writes in the email “with the knowledge we now have we are confident that we made the correct and prudent decision on Feb. 9 with limited information when we recalled our pelleted nursery feeds that contained porcine blood plasma.” The company also warned the industry that porcine origin ingredients might pose a risk of transmitting PED virus.
Founded in 1960, Grand Valley Fortifiers specializes in formulating, manufacturing and selling mineral premixes for swine, dairy, beef and poultry producers. On its website, the company says it feeds about 22 per cent of Ontario’s swine and 10 per cent of its dairy cattle. The vitamin premixes are manufactured at the company’s Cambridge plant, while the recalled swine pelleted nursery feeds were made for Grand Valley Fortifiers at a third-party manufacturer in Ontario.
Grand Valley Fortifiers is a major premix manufacturer for the swine industry, Ross says in a telephone interview. It manufactures about 25,000 tonnes of premix annually for swine, dairy, beef and poultry but swine is the biggest part of the business. Its products are included in animal feed rations at about three to four per cent.
Last month, Grand Valley Fortifiers told customers to stop using three of its products, Bionic, BioForce and BioPrime sold from Jan. 1, and that it would issue credits to customers’ accounts for the recalled product. It recommended customers switch to its Natures Blend product, which doesn’t contain any animal byproducts. In addition, Grand Valley announced it was discontinuing production of the recalled nursery feeds and it will no longer be using porcine-origin ingredients in any of its swine feeds.
Ross says he couldn’t quantify the company’s losses due to the recall.
Cases linked to recalled feed
Up to 17 of the 25 confirmed cases on Ontario farms are linked to Grand Valley Fortifiers, including the first case on the Middlesex County farrow-to-finish operation, he notes. But “not everybody that got pelleted nursery feeds on their farm and were feeding them with that particular batch of plasma were infected either but there’s a fairly strong correlation there.”
Ross says he doesn’t have scientific proof yet of how the infected plasma batch they got became contaminated but he finds it hard to understand how the plasma could become contaminated after production.
There are four to five major blood plasma manufacturers in North America, Ross says, but he declined to name the company Grand Valley used for its plasma. The spray-dried plasma is shipped in bags in a powder format and added to the pellets at the specification rates outlined by Grand Valley Fortifiers.
Grand Valley Fortifiers was using the same plasma product from the same supplier for two years “and this particularly batch obviously seems to be an issue,” he says, noting he’s not saying every batch of plasma or every porcine-origin ingredient is problematic.
Both of the manufacturing facilities Grand Valley Fortifiers owns, one in Cambridge and one in Manitoba, are free of porcine-origin ingredients including plasma and those products haven’t been used at those two facilities for more than five years, Ross says.
Grand Valley Fortifiers has been talking to its former plasma supplier “and they obviously are confident in their own good manufacturing practices and the safety of their product and it remains to be seen what we’re going to do,” he explains. “There is obviously more discussions needed going forward.”
Ross says it’s too early to say if Grand Valley Fortifiers plans any litigation against the company. “I must be careful what I say there.”
As for whether Grand Valley Fortifiers may face litigation from affected farmers, Ross says “we’ve got multiple customers that may have been infected through the plasma that was resident within the pelleted nursery feeds. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those that have been negatively impacted by the spread of the virus in Canada.”
Ross says Grand Valley Fortifiers has a history and reputation of standing and supporting its customers through good times as well as challenging times and “we’re going to do our utmost to do that in this situation as well.”
Ontario Pork encourages producers to be vigilant
Ontario Pork board member Bill Wymenga says the CFIA’s conclusion on feed and PED cases in Canada doesn’t change their message to farmers. “We’re still encouraging our producers to be very vigilant in their biosecurity measures and we know there are some cases that cannot be linked to the feed.”
There are confirmed cases on 25 Ontario farms. The two most recent ones are: on Feb. 28, a case was confirmed on an Oxford County farrow-to-finish operation; and on March 4 a case was confirmed on a finisher operation in Bruce County, the first one for that county. Oxford has the most confirmed cases with six. Three other provinces each have a confirmed case on a farm – Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.
The Ontario agriculture ministry is also reporting positive PED samples at assembly yards, trucking yards and processing plants.
Wymenga says in the United States, PED appears to be endemic but that’s something that in Ontario “we’re trying to control so it doesn’t come to that.”
As for the long-term management of PED virus, Wymenga says it has only been in the United States for about a year and “I think they’re looking to see what’s happened in China and other areas and how that disease has gone.”
Toll of the virus on Ontario’s industry not yet known
Ontario Pork doesn’t yet know what the toll on production has been from PED virus in the province. “We can only make extrapolations based on what we know about how the disease acts,” he says, noting he hasn’t done that extrapolation.
Wymenga says Ontario Pork has already spent a lot of resources trying to manage the disease and “we’re looking at all the different areas where we need to be looking at and certainly research (into PED) would be one that Ontario Pork would be willing to do if it sees appropriate projects that meet our criteria.”
The CFIA is also encouraging farmers to adhere to good biosecurity protocols, which remains the best measure to prevent further introduction or spread of the disease in Canada. PED poses no risk to human health or other species and it isn’t a food safety risk. But it can spread rapidly through contact with sick pigs as well as through people’s clothing, hands, equipment, boots and tools “contaminated with the feces of infected animals.”
Testing blood plasma for PED
CFIA spokesperson Lisa Murphy says by email in doing its testing on feed and blood plasma the agency used a specific scientific study, called a biological assay, “that measures the effects of a substance, such as a bacterium or virus, on a living organism.” The agency did two separate bioassay studies. The first was done by feeding piglets directly with the contaminated blood plasma and that test confirmed the blood plasma is capable of causing PED in pigs. The second test involved feeding piglets the affected feed to see if they became sick with PED but it “could not definitively confirm” that the affected feed was capable of making pigs sick.
CFIA’s investigation included sampling and testing of feed, plasma and other feed ingredients from various Canadian and American sources associated with farms in Canada where PED was detected. All test results on these samples were negative for PED, the agency’s March 3 announcement says.
CFIA continues to analyze feed and feed ingredients. In response to the positive porcine blood plasma test results, the agency has launched a number of measures, including:
- Activated its National Emergency Operations Centre to coordinate the feed investigation.
- Contacted farms that received the affected feed to confirm the voluntary recall was effective.
- Provided science-based guidance on affected feed disposal.
- Worked with U.S. officials to confirm that none of the affected plasma was shipped to other pig feed manufacturers in Canada.
- Briefed provincial and territorial chief veterinary officers and industry stakeholders.
Murphy says there are about 500 commercial feed mills in Canada with many of them manufacturing swine feed but not all of them use plasma, which is mainly used as an ingredient in nursery feed for young piglets. It is not used in feed meant for older pigs.
While the blood plasma used by Grand Valley Fortifiers was from the United States, blood plasma is also made in Canada.
CFIA inspectors verify Canadian facilities are using approved ingredients in their feed but do not “capture usage patterns for specific ingredients,” she says.
Companies wishing to import animal byproducts are required to hold a valid import permit, which is issued annually.
She didn’t answer a question about how much blood plasma is imported annually into Canada.
Ross says blood plasma is widely used in nursery feeds around the world, specifically in North America, for the first two weeks after piglets are weaned because it is a great digestible protein source that provides antibodies to help the immune systems of young piglets. He says he can’t comment on other companies’ use of plasma in their feeds. BF