THE Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has released another undercover video, this time targeting a hog operation in Owensboro, Ky., dealing with the highly contagious and deadly porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV).
In its press release and related press conference, HSUS took issue with how the sows were housed as well as with a practice on the farm related to minimizing the impact of PEDV.
HSUS said its investigation, conducted in early 2014, found that more than 900 piglets died from the diarrheal disease in a two-day period.
"Somebody watching this video might conclude that PEDV only happens on this type of farm. It just isn't true," explained Dr. Lisa Tokach, a practicing swine veterinarian in Kansas.
Tokach was part of a panel of farm animal care specialists convened to analyze the undercover video investigation at the Kentucky farm. The panel also included Dr. Candace Croney of Purdue University, Dr. John Deen of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Tom Burkgren, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians.
The Center for Food Integrity created the Animal Care Review Panel several years back to engage recognized animal care specialists to examine videos and provide expert perspectives for food retailers, the pork industry and the media.
PEDV has been documented in the U.S. and Canada and kills 100% of piglets younger than two weeks of age in a matter of several days. The disease is highly contagious.
How the virus entered the U.S. and how it is spreading are unknown at this time, but a number of scientific and industry experts have been working to minimize losses and determine the cause since the virus was first discovered in April.
In an attempt to build sows' immunity to PEDV, one practice within the industry is grinding up and feeding back to sows a small portion of the intestines of piglets that had died from the disease.
Another practice is to put a very small amount of feces from an infected piglet into the mouth of a sow to prompt her to develop immunity to PEDV.
A vaccine for PEDV is available, and several others are under development, but at this time, none are commercially available to the hog industry or have been totally proved effective.
Saying that the Federal Swine Health Protection Act is intended to prevent the feeding of unsanitary substances to pigs, HSUS is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to examine the practice of feeding infected material to animals.
Likewise, HSUS is asking the Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission to ban sow gestation crates and examine the practice of feeding the remains of dead diseased piglets to surviving sows.
The Kentucky Livestock Coalition explained in a statement, "The farmer in question appears to be using a widely accepted and veterinary-recommended management practice to inoculate the farm's hogs from PEDV. The lack of a vaccination requires farmers to use a long-approved and successful controlled exposure technique. In some instances, intestines or stool from affected swine are used to save unaffected swine."
Dr. Liz Wagstrom, National Pork Producers Council chief veterinarian, told Feedstuffs that the practice of introducing an antigenic substance has historically helped eliminate infectious diseases.
Wagstrom said the approach to controlling PEDV is two-prong. The industry practice of feeding intestines from diseased piglets is not applied until a PEDV outbreak has actually occurred on a farming operation.
Since the virus spreads easily throughout an operation, it is important to expose all of the hogs on a farm at the same time, or the disease will persist indefinitely. Sows pass on antibodies in their milk to assist with building up the immune system of newborn piglets.
"This process is going to save millions of baby pigs that otherwise would die if producers have to stop doing it," Wagstrom said.
"There's no question that people may be put off by this treatment, but PEDV is wreaking havoc out there on the farms, and 'feedback' is the only control method we have found to be effective," Burkgren added.
"The disease was unknown in the U.S. prior to April 15. It's been here less than a year. Federal funding for animal health research is virtually nonexistent. It's almost a perfect storm," Burkgren explained. "This is a virus that was unknown in the U.S. prior to April, and the characteristics of the virus don't lend themselves to research and development. People need to ask themselves, What are you more uncomfortable with: truckloads of dead pigs, or exposing animals to a fecal slurry?"
Wagstrom pointed out that PEDV is only an animal health issue, not a food safety issue, and people cannot get sick from eating pork.
* Feedstuffs staff members Cheryl Day and Sarah Muirhead jointly contributed to this report.