THE future is unpredictable, and this holds true for the pork industry as it continues to deal with the emergence of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) and the impact on pork supplies.
Since the first PEDV case was reported in the U.S. last April, losses have been estimated at 5 million piglets among 27 states. Several questions — such as how the virus was introduced, an effective method for control and duration of immunity — still linger.
As the number of PEDV cases continues to climb in the U.S. and bordering countries, the foremost focus this year will be to relieve the impact of the virus on pork supplies and to limit losses.
"This has become one of the most serious and devastating diseases our pig farmers have faced in decades," said Karen Richter, a Minnesota producer and president of the National Pork Board (NPB). "While it has absolutely no impact on food safety, it has clear implications for the pork industry in terms of supplying pork to consumers. Our number-one priority is to address PEDV."
NPB announced, at the National Pork Industry Forum, a three-pronged strategy to fight against the further spread of PEDV that includes $650,000 in additional funding by the pork checkoff and Genome Alberta — which committed approximately $500,000 toward a North American coordinated effort — earmarked for PEDV research and information. This brings the current level of checkoff-funded research to approximately $1.7 million since June 2013.
At its last meeting, NPB approved the additional pork checkoff supplemental funding to research the role feed may play in PEDV transmission, to further investigate sow immunity and to better understand transmission and biosecurity risks.
"That investment will be centered on further containing PEDV, with a specific focus on feed research and related issues, building the immunity of breeding herds and biosecurity measures," said Dr. Paul Sundberg, NPB vice president of science and technology.
Later in the month, in a collaborative effort, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), American Association of Swine Veterinarians, American Feed Industry Assn., National Grain & Feed Assn., National Renderers Assn. and North American Spray Dried Blood & Plasma Protein Producers will meet to align in a joint effort to fight against PEDV.
NPPC chief veterinarian Dr. Liz Wagstrom told Feedstuffs that the aim of the coordinated meeting will be to share knowledge across the groups, identify any gaps and address how to fill the gaps. In addition, the groups will prioritize future actions for either research or program development that will be funded cooperatively.
Still, the role feed plays in the PEDV transmission process, if any, is a mystery.
"There is some evidence that feed may be linked, but we do not know for certain, and that is one of our big gaps of knowledge," Wagstrom explained. "We do not have a good test to identify if there is virus in the feed and if it is infected, so we do not have a good way to correct any of the concerns."
The additional funds will be further used to pinpoint ways to increase sow immunity and help better manage the spread of PEDV.
Historically, lessons can be learned from experience in dealing with similar diseases, such as transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE), but controlling an outbreak in general needs a more all-inclusive approach, Wagstrom said.
Although a commercial vaccine is on the fast track for approval, it is not necessarily the only solution.
"Vaccines are a potential tool to use with this virus. The new technologies may be promising," Sundberg said. "I do think we can expect it to be a solution, but we are looking for it to be something helpful in managing the virus."
For TGE, a vaccine was only part of what controlled the disease; other management practices such as herd closure, for instance, were important control measures, too.
Therefore, Wagstrom said, "We need to look at a much more holistic picture on how you would control PEDV, including preventing new introduction, having good biosecurity and other management protocols, and perhaps a vaccine fits in there. It's (about) more than having a magic bullet in a syringe that will cure it all. It is going to be a much more difficult process."
Ultimately, only time will provide the true answers for effective methods to stimulate protective immunity, the longevity of a sow's immunity and proper virus control measures.