THE opening dialogue for a panel at the 2006 National Pork Industry Forum warned that "it only takes one infected animal to devastate the industry."
The panel was composed of producers, a packer representative and the economic adviser to the Swine Identification Task Force. Our intention was to drive home the message that producers needed to support and participate in a swine premises registration system.
Several producers who heard this message were skeptical about the need to create a premises registration system because there had been no foreign animal disease outbreak in the U.S. for years. They thought we were going a little over the top to create support for the program.
Sometimes, though, you need to go over the top to drive home a message. As pork producers in the U.S. continue to battle porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), we need to modify that message to: "It only takes one inadvertent breech of biosecurity to bring the virus into your herd."
A National Animal Health Laboratory Network report on PEDV for the week of Dec. 1, 2013, notes that 20 states have reported at least one confirmed case of PEDV. The report indicates that the battle to control the virus is far from over as a record 140 cases were reported.
The National Pork Board, National Pork Producers Council and American Association of Swine Veterinarians continue to produce fact sheets on PEDV, which are available on the pork checkoff website at www.pork.org. These fact sheets detail biosecurity protocols that should be put in place on farms and production sites.
The swine industry has had its share of disease battles over the years: pseudorabies, transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE), porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, H1N1 influenza and now PEDV. Each disease created a unique set of challenges for producers and the industry.
The financial impact of such an outbreak is always a concern, but no hog farmer ever wants his or her pigs to be sick or suffer in any way. This is the one constant that has remained throughout all of the different disease challenges.
Growing up on a hog farm, I can recall the day the neighbor called and told my dad that his herd had been diagnosed with TGE. Automatically, things changed. Dad and the neighbor usually worked together, especially when there was extra livestock work to be done, but they did not take any chances. They also shared a male hog (boar) because it was financially efficient, given that they each had fewer than 30 sows.
Creating and maintaining biosecurity was much more challenging in those days as finishing hogs were in open lots and sows farrowed in barns that had little or no restricted entrance. Gates did not restrict barnyard entrances because, most likely, the farmer's family lived on the premises.
Doing our best to protect our pigs, we scrubbed our boots and dipped them in disinfectant before entering and leaving the barn. We took extra precautions like wearing coveralls even though it was the middle of the summer, and all animal movements around the farm were restricted.
The financial loss is only part of the big picture. Loss of animals to the disease is never easy. Much like PEDV, piglets infected with TGE often could not survive the power of the virus. It takes a lot of personal fortitude to manage through a swine disease outbreak, but it has to be done. The animals are the first priority when a crisis strikes.
Producers need to remember that the best place to start their biosecurity practices is before their boots touch the ground in the morning.
Industry experts are encouraging producers to limit their trips to public places such as feed stores and veterinary clinics; even stops at the local convenience store for that extra cup of coffee might inadvertently expose their farms to the virus.
Vigilance is evaluating your current daily routine, identifying possible public hot spots and staying away. Inadvertent exposures can be controlled if due diligence is done and biosecurity plans are updated and enforced.
Presently, the final impact of PEDV on the U.S. pork industry is yet to be determined, but for today, if every producer remembers that "it only takes one exposure to continue to spread" PEDV, we may be able to deter the spread of the virus.
*Joy Philippi is a fourth-generation Nebraska farmer and pork producer and partners with her parents in Philippi Farms. She has been active in agricultural advocacy for many years and is a former president of the National Pork Producers Council and Nebraska Pork Producers Assn. and a past board member of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture.