Many of Alberta’s pork producers were gathered at the Banff Pork Seminar when news broke that Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) had been found on a farm in Ontario.
But there was also good news — Alberta Pork has a battle plan in place and the province’s 350 commercial producers have a couple of things working in their favour.
“We are a third of Ontario’s industry and produce a third as many pigs,” said Dr. Egan Brockhoff, a swine veterinarian and owner of Prairie Health Services during a recent ‘telephone town hall.’
“So we have fewer animals and less movement. Only about three per cent of our hogs actually go to an assembly yard in Alberta.”
Moreover, about 70 per cent of pigs are slaughtered within the province’s borders, with most of the remainder going to other western Canadian plants. That’s an advantage because trucks transporting pigs to slaughter are a major risk factor in spreading the illness, which is contracted via fecal/oral contamination. However, it also means that if the virus comes to western Canada, producers in all four provinces will be at risk.
Another advantage is that most of Alberta’s herds are free from Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) and are vaccinated for porcine circovirus, both of which impair immune function.
“We have a strong pig in Alberta, we do not tend to mix pigs and certainly we’re not mixing pigs from different sources,” said Brockhoff.
“We have to remember that the virus can be on our footwear
or handheld cellular phones. And so as we come in contact with
contaminated areas, we have to be very careful about how we are
decontaminating ourselves before we go back to our pigs.”
— Dr. Egan Brockhoff, swine veterinarian
Alberta Pork quickly rolled out its action plan, centred on keeping producers well informed, and urging them to plug any holes in their biosecurity procedures. The organization is sending weekly email updates, holding bi-weekly conference calls dubbed telephone town halls, and holding in-person monthly meetings throughout the province. January meetings in Lethbridge, Red Deer, and Grande Prairie attracted more than 400 participants. Alberta Pork’s board has also set up a $100,000 reserve fund to address PEDv.
During a January telephone town hall, producers were reminded how easily the disease spreads.
“We have to remember that the virus can be on our footwear or handheld cellular phones,” said Brockhoff. “And so as we come in contact with contaminated areas, we have to be very careful about how we are decontaminating ourselves before we go back to our pigs.”
While the disease doesn’t represent a threat to food safety or human health, an outbreak “could be devastating to the pork industry and an individual pig farm,” he said.
“PEDv is endemic in the United States,” added Dr. Julia Keenliside, a veterinarian epidemiologist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. “It is not going away — it’s here to stay. I’m wondering if Ontario is also approaching that point. We shall see.”
From the Manitoba Co-operator website: Manitoba pork industry to step up PEDV fight
Infection spreads through a herd in two to four days after exposure. Infected pigs often suffer severe diarrhea and vomiting, and young animals often die. Older pigs have some natural immunity and usually survive, but because of the way immunity develops, it’s likely the disease will reoccur in that herd. Moreover, after an infection, there are often abortions and reduced conception rates.
“When a farm is hit by an outbreak of PED virus, it can take months for production to return to normal,” said Brockhoff.
Any producer who sees a pig with diarrhea needs to call their vet immediately. PEDv is a provincially reportable disease and must be reported to the Chief Provincial Veterinarian of Alberta within 24 hours by calling 1-800-524-0051.
Anyone who reports the disease will have support from veterinarians and Albert Agriculture.
“This is our main concern — if we can catch the first case or cases, we can slow the spread,” said Keenliside.
Funding is available through AgriStablity and Growing Forward 2 to compensate for loss of income as well as biosecurity improvements.
Producers are also being urged to talk to their vet about ways to protect their herds.
“This is the best way to prevent the virus from entering our Alberta farms,” said Brockhoff.
Every delivery and point of contact can result in a risk of contamination. Truck washes, provincial processor abattoirs, and assembly stations all represent a risk. Trailers, trucks, footwear and the clothes a producer wears need to be disinfected after every point of contact. Producers also need to report animal movements, whether the pigs are going to slaughter or to another farm.
“Pigs really do move and it is the movement that makes it difficult to control the spread of disease such as PEDv,” said Keenliside.
The traceability system in Alberta tracks about 90 per cent of pig slaughter movements, and Keenliside said she hopes officials can get this number to 100 per cent.
All markets, buying stations, and anything related to transportation is a potential source of infected fecal matter. Producers need to have clear protocols for washing and disinfecting transport trailers, and entering and exiting their barns. Protocols for proper biosecurity are available through Alberta Pork, Alberta Agriculture, and veterinarians.
PEDv was first discovered in Europe in the 1970s, moved to Asia in the early 1980s, and migrated to the U.S. by May 2013. More than three million pigs in the U.S. have been infected. A vaccine has been developed in the U.S. and Ottawa is allowing vets to import it. Although an estimated 800,000 doses have been used, field data is still being gathered, and early signs show that in naïve herds, it can only reduce losses, not eliminate infection.