Local food processors are starting to feel the impact of porcine epidemic diarrhea, says the executive director of Alberta Pork.
Darcy Fitzgerald, executive director with Alberta Pork, says processors he spoke with during a conference in Olds, Alta. in mid-March are having trouble finding the supplies of fresh pork they need to make products such as sausage and ham.
By March 16, the United States had confirmed 4,106 positive cases of the virus, affecting farms in 26 states. Canada-wide, PED had been confirmed on 29 farms in Ontario which were affected along with one farm each in Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Manitoba.
So far, the only sign of the virus in Alberta was from a lab test on a feed ingredient, which was returned to the supplier, says Fitzgerald.
While feed ingredients have been identified as a potential source, trucking is still considered the most likely means for spreading the virus, he says.
“It’s growing in the U.S. For us, it’s really that issue about our trucks that go down there, taking weaners down. When they come back up . . . the trailers are getting sealed at the border, and then they go to an approved truck wash and then they go through the whole cleaning and disinfecting process before they’re sent to the (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) to identify that they are clean.”
Fitzgerald says processors and producers have stepped up their bio-security protocols, including paying special attention to loading docks and vehicle movement inside their farms.
Alberta producers hauling their own pigs commonly carry disinfectant in their truck and wash them down in a commercial wash bay before heading back home, he said.
Martin Waldner, manager of the hog barn at the Hartland Colony near Alix, says he goes to the truck wash as soon as he has unloaded, and then washes and disinfects again when he gets home.
While the bio-security protocols are expensive and time consuming, Waldner says he doesn’t know how he or others would manage the physical, emotional and financial costs if the virus did slip through the protocols and get into their barns.
Waldner estimates that his farm would lose 450 piglets a week for a period of five weeks in the time it would take for him to contain an outbreak. It would take many more months for his operation to recover from the losses.
The Hartland barn is particularly vulnerable, because it is still new and has not yet been paid off, says Waldner.
Alongside that, he has barely enough help for the regular chores, never mind the extra work and expense involved in make sure than potential contaminants are kept off the farm and out of the barn.
Alberta Pork has set $500,000 aside to assist any producer who is affected, while the provincial government is offering lab tests and other services to help detect pathogens, says Fitzgerald.
The producer-owned organization has also set up an ongoing series of meetings and teleconferences to keep producers informed about the disease and to offer up-to-date information about how to protect their farms.
Red Deer-based swine practitioner Egan Brockhoff has conducted a number of information sessions, including the session that Waldner attended on Feb. 20.
Brockhoff warns producers to avoid feed ingredients that contain animal protein products after some cases in Ontario were traced to a feed supplier that had imported ingredients from the U.S. The supplier has recalled the products, but that discovery waved a red flag that producers cannot afford to ignore.
He also outlines other protocols in the yard and the loading dock that farmers should follow, including creating transportation zones around the barn.
Farmers should assume that the soil outside of their barns is contaminated and take the appropriate steps to stop that contamination at the door, he said.
That includes thoroughly disinfecting everything that goes in and out of the barn, such as cell phones and other tools. Brockhoff says his cell phone has changed colour from the number of times he has treated it with Virkon so he can keep it with him while he is visiting pig barns.
He recommends that farmers control vehicle movement in their yards to avoid tracking potentially contaminated soil around the site, including designated parking for visitor and staff vehicles, dedicated areas for truck movement and finding an effective means of setting up a system to avoid cross-contamination from the pickup of dead animals.
“Without question, the bio-security standard that we have in Alberta is higher than any place in the world,” says Brockhoff.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t have leaks and holes. Bio-security is an ongoing, daily thing. We do a great job in this province, but there’s no such thing as perfect and we should all be striving to do everything we can to protect our herds.”
He advises producers that PED is an exceptionally contagious virus, stating that a quantity of virus the size of the tip of his little finger would be enough to wipe out every pig in Canada.
While vaccines are available, they have proven ineffective in protecting herds from new outbreaks of the disease, says Brockhoff.
Detailed information about the PED virus is available through a link on the Alberta Pork website, including daily updates on the number of farms that have been infected, their locations and the date the virus was confirmed.
Please visit www.albertapork.com to learn more. •
— By Brenda Kossowan