An outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea, or PED, has swept across the United States. The disease, which has a high mortality rate in piglets less than a week old, was noticed last year in just a few barns. Over the past 12 months the number of infected facilities has mushroomed by more than 4,000 percent.
The potential cost to farmers and related support industries remains undetermined but if left unchecked could push pork prices even higher than what they are today.
The influx of the disease into the U.S. remains a mystery but federal officials agree it spreads easily.
After a delayed response, USDA officials are moving forward with new reporting requirements. But even though the number of animals infected by PED and other related viruses, appears to be declining experts are quick to say it’s not time to relax. Paul Yeager explains.
USDA officials will begin enforcing a new order requiring farmers to report new or renewed outbreaks of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PED, and two related viruses. The outbreak of the disease, which has a high mortality rate for piglets less than a week old, continues to move through barns across the nation.
Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: “At the end of the day, this is really about saying, ‘Look, a year ago, we were talking about 103 barns and operations. Today, we are talking about 4,700. A year ago, there weren’t too many countries in the world that were saying, ‘We don’t want any live pork exports.’ Today, there are a few. We have over a five-and-a-half-billion dollar export market for pork. Why would we want to jeopardize that?”
The federal order requires that producers who have hogs testing positive for PED, a variant of PED, or the Porcine Deltacorona virus report those results to a state or federal veterinarian. The vets will help direct farmers on how to improve biosecurity and create a federally required disease management plan. To help defer some of the related expenses, USDA has cost-sharing funds available. Farmers who deliberately ignore the federal order could be fined or face limitations on where they can move their hogs.
Federal officials and private pork industry spokespeople joined Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack for the unveiling of the new rule at last month’s World Pork Expo.
Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: “We’ve tried to find the right balance of that issue of heavy handedness. As I pointed out, there are no movement restrictions here, there’s no quarantine requirement. This is a reporting requirement, a notification requirement, and in the long-term best interest of the operator and the industry.”
Dr. John Clifford, USDA Chief Veterinary: “I know confidentiality is a concern for you all. But I can not do my job without good solid data.”
According to USDA, the percentage of positive tests for PED and its variant continue to decline. In November of last year, 38 percent of the barns tested came back with positive results. By June of this year, that number had declined to 14 percent.
Dr. Tom Burkgren, American Association of Swine Veterinarians: “We think that’s probably due to the warmer weather. Although we don’t want 100-degree days, the virus hates them just as much as we do. But don’t let your guard down. Our veterinarians are telling producers it’s not time to compromise your biosecurity. Now is the time to leverage the heat to try to tamp down the virus and get ready for next fall.”
Last month, the federal government granted conditional approval for a new vaccine created by Harrisvaccines of Ames, Iowa. The drug is designed to improve sow immunity to PED, ideally passing antibodies to piglets through the sow’s milk. Newborn piglets are most likely to die from PED as they rapidly dehydrate once infected.
Harrisvaccines’ officials say a small test – although not statistically significant - showed that vaccinated sows lost 15 percent of their piglets compared to 42 percent in the non-vaccinated control group. The company is working on a larger study. Federal officials say other companies also are working on vaccines for PED.
Humans are not susceptible to the virus, which doesn’t present a food-safety issue. However, the U.S. hog supply as of June 1 was down 5 percent compared to a year ago, though experts had expected a 10-percent drop. A total of 30 states have now had reported infections.
Jackson, Minnesota-based New Fashion Pork, which markets 1.2 million hogs annually, is among the thousands of pork producers who have lost large numbers of piglets due to PED and Deltacoronavirus.
Emily Erickson, New Fashion Pork: “About half of the sows in Minnesota have been affected by it and I would say those numbers hold pretty true to our system too. And, yeah, we’ve definitely incorporated some new biosecurity protocols and how we handle people coming onto our sites, including our trucks and our truck drivers. So there’s been several changes within our system but … they’ve made us better.”
Erickson, animal well-being and quality assurance manager for New Fashion Pork, says the company dealt with a PED outbreak in the fall of 2013 and an outbreak of the related Deltacoronavirus in the spring of 2014. Its Glidden, Iowa sow barns were clear of the viruses in June, but the producers have been unable to eliminate the virus from nursery barns.
Emily Erickson, New Fashion Pork: “These pigs were weaned today for the sow farm so they’ve been weaned today. That’s why they are so tuckered out and laying out and about now … so these pigs are actually getting infected upon arrival. I would say probably by – let’s see, today is Thursday – probably by tomorrow morning, tomorrow evening, we’ll start seeing signs and symptoms of PED in these pigs. Because there are lots of nooks and crannies in the barn, whether it’s the water cup, the feeder, the Rotecnas, the nose-to-nose contact. So we know that these sites are still dirty, and they still have PED in them so it just takes a matter of hours for that pig to come in contact with that disease. And start infecting the entire herd.”
USDA officials believe mandatory reporting should provide more immediate data to allow for faster, more-informed decisions. When the outbreak began last year, federal officials said, they lacked the data needed to make effective decisions to protect the U.S. hog herd.
Dr. John Clifford, USDA: “…I want us to build a model together so that when the next PED comes into this country or whatever the soup de jour it is that we act together and we act quickly. We don’t wait to see whether the disease is going to cause approximately 7 million dead baby pigs.”
Emily Erickson, New Fashion Pork (audio only 12:06) “The thing about federal reporting is that, you know what, there’s still going to be some farmers that chose not to or don’t participate in it. And it’s too bad because it’s part of being a good neighbor to let people know when you have the disease. We knew in this area that we are today when our neighbors went positive. They were forthcoming with that information and that’s what it’s really about: just being a good neighbor.”
So far, the financial impact of the disease has, for most producers, been largely offset by the increased pork prices that resulted from anticipated supply shortages. But few expect this to continue if the disease spreads quickly once colder weather returns.
Dr. John Clifford, USDA: “What keeps me up at night is: what’s the next thing that might come through this same pathway or pathways?”
For Market to Market, I’m Paul Yeager.