The latest disease challenge facing the pork industry will affect fair entries.
Only a few days after Wisconsin pork producers gathered for their annual meeting in Wisconsin Dells and discussed porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) with a national expert, the state is stepping in to halt spring weigh-ins of pigs in preparation for the state's many county and community fairs and livestock shows.
Dr. Paul McGraw, state veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, (DATCP) said Tuesday (Feb. 11) he was issuing a ban on the weigh-ins.
He based the decision on protecting the state's pork industry from the deadly, communicable PED virus, which can be easily transmitted with commingled hogs.
For that reason he is also recommending that only terminal swine shows be held in the state — meaning no hogs go home from the fairground, but instead go directly to slaughter.
During a meeting in Wisconsin Dells with pork producers McGraw said Wisconsin had had six confirmed cases of PED virus. On Tuesday McGraw said he grew concerned about the national picture — last week's confirmed cases jumped to the highest weekly increase since the costly and highly contagious disease was discovered in the United States in April 2013.
"We don't want infected pigs coming to a weigh-in, commingling with other pigs, which then heading back to the farm of origin, exposing other pigs," McGraw said.
The disease is not transmissible to humans, but can result in tremendous production losses for swine producers.
The PED virus can cause diarrhea, vomiting and severe dehydration in hogs. Industry analysts estimate that from one-four million swine have died from PED since it was found in the U.S pig population in 2013.
Last week during their annual meeting, Wisconsin pork producers heard from Dr. James McKean, DVM, of the Iowa Pork Industry Center at Iowa State University who has been the college's Extension veterinarian for 30 years.
"Someone said all it takes is a thimble full of manure to infect all the pigs in the United States," he said.
Because the disease had not been seen in the United States before, we had a completely susceptible population to this virus, he said.
Once the disease was discovered, early emphasis was on biosecurity, especially where truckers are concerned. "There are 800,000 hogs on the road every day and they're all on trucks. There aren't enough truck washes in the country to clean and disinfect all of them," McKean said.
He's hearing from many hog producers that they are staying home from events rather than risk infection. "But how many things do you want to miss out on? Not all risk can be eliminated."
McKean said producers need to do all they can to exclude the infection from their pigs and should devise a working plan to contain it within a given area of their farm if it gets there. If it is in the finishing barn, for example, every effort should be made to keep it out of the farrowing barn.
"Biosecurity is a journey, not a destination."
The PED virus is a corona virus that is highly infectious and affects the intestines only and is spread by manure. It is sensitive to heat, sunlight and drying but it is able to survive freezing.
Laboratory tests have shown that it can survive in cold manure slurry or in wet feed for 28 days.
"We will probably never know how the disease got into the country," he said. There has been some discussion that it came in with feed or feed ingredients.
There has now been a second, more recent introduction of another PED virus, which can be linked to a 2010 outbreak in China, based on the DNA of the virus.
McKean urged hog farmers to check with their feed mills on their biosecurity and scheduling practices. He told farmers they also need to keep an eye on service people like plumbers, electricians and others who come to the farm.
"Where were their last stops? This is a teachable moment."
He encouraged those in the hog industry to be reasonable but also to take any opportunity to talk to those servicing their farms about the high cost of this disease and why they need to comply with biosecurity measures.
"They're not doing this intentionally, they just have a lot of people they have to see."
McKean suggested that if farmers need to use certain tools in certain barns, they keep them there and get another set for other barns. It would also be good practice for farmers to have color-coded boots and coveralls for each barn so it's easily apparent if any worker is moving from one facility to another.
A North Carolina study found that hog farms were twice as likely to get PED if they had multiple company visitors and if they were visited by the rendering truck.
They were 10 times more likely to have the disease if they had recently added pigs to their herds.
Farms within one mile of an infected farm were at eight times greater risk of getting it; two miles raised the risk by 6.3 times. At three miles away the risk was no greater, the study found.
That may raise the question of whether birds and other varmints are moving the disease around by getting the virus on their feet.
Limiting birds, reducing animal introduction and limiting human entry into barns are all part of a biosecurity plan, he said. Showering and changing clothing and footwear between barns is also crucial as are hand washing practices.
"Biosecurity must be routinized but not trivialized," McKean told the group, urging farmers to "preach the why, not just the how."
Farms should create a "line of exclusion" and everybody should know where the line is and what the rules are. Protocols should be set up for truckers coming onto the farm.
Hog producers need to "learn how to live with it in the short term," he said.
There is a killed PED virus vaccine out now and a second one with a modified live virus is on its way, he said.
"You've got PED in this state whether you like it or not and it's in places where you didn't know you have it," the vet said. "This virus is very good on rapidly dividing cells, like the intestines of little pigs."
Taking questions from the group, McKean talked about pig weigh-ins and how fraught they are with the possibility of contamination. McGraw asked some of the questions.
This week, McGraw said the ban on spring weigh-ins is the first step in minimizing the effect of PED on Wisconsin pork producers. He's also recommending the cancellation of all shows that would return pigs to their farm of origin.
Fairs that decide to hold these non-terminal shows despite the warning may be subject to possible state action if PED is found at the show, he said.
"If PED virus is found or suspected at a non-terminal event, all pigs may be quarantined to the facility until we receive a confirmatory test for PEDv. If PEDv is found, all pigs would likely be sent directly to slaughter," McGraw said.
If disease is not found at the event, the pigs could return to their farm of origin as planned.
"As we head into the busy fair and exhibition season here in Wisconsin we are looking at some of our fair and show processes and asking if it's really worth the potential risk they pose to the pork industry," McGraw says.
"The only safe way to control the disease is to ensure that the pigs commingled at fairs and shows are sent directly to slaughter."
The National Pork Board has developed a wide variety of biosecurity information that is free and available at www.pork.org.
"The Pork Board has done a great job of outlining the many precautions swine farmers should be taking to minimize their losses by keeping the virus off their farm," McGraw says.
"When swine are commingled at shows and exhibitions, the potential for viral spread increases, so we want to do all we can to keep the virus out to begin with."