MILWAUKEE (AP) – Shoppers have seen double-digit increases in bacon prices in the past year as a virus that causes deadly diarrhea in baby pigs sweeps through U.S. hog farms.
Wisconsin state veterinarian Dr. Paul McGraw recently served on a federal task force charged with developing a plan to fight the disease known as porcine epidemic diarrhea, or PED. Wisconsin has few hog farms compared to neighboring Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota, and may have had only a handful of PED cases, based on the limited data collected thus far. But McGraw was chosen in part because he grew up on a dairy and hog farm in Dodgeville.
He spoke this week with The Associated Press about the task force; biosecurity, or efforts to prevent the spread of disease; and the challenges ahead for farmers and health officials.
Q. Can you talk briefly about what the federal government is doing to fight PED?
A. One thing the federal government did is issue an order on June 5 that makes PED and other swine coronaviruses reportable, which means farmers or veterinarians would have to report to the state or federal government if they have a confirmed case … They’ll have to develop a herd management plan with their veterinarians. This will include things that they’ll be watching for, biosecurity efforts to be placed in so they can try to control the virus and eliminate the virus.
Q. What might you typically see in a herd management plan?
A. They might want to discuss the biosecurity of visitors and vehicles entering the premises. So, who comes to your farm? What route do they take? Do they travel the same route as the trucks hauling pigs in and out or the feed trucks? Those kinds of things.
They would want to monitor employee biosecurity, so … do employees also have pigs at home? They’d want to ask those questions, make sure employees are maybe changing coveralls or boots, those kinds of things, as they go into the barn.
Q. The federal government recently gave conditional approval to the first vaccine licensed for this disease. How significant do you think that is?
A. I think it’s pretty early to know yet. It is licensed. It is approved. We approved it to be distributed in Wisconsin; they also need the state vet of each state to approve shipment of that vaccine and distribution.
What we don’t have yet is the actual studies on how well it works. It’s preliminary, it’s real early, and so there will be more data to come. Hopefully, it’s very successful vaccine and helps prevent death loss.
Q. What do you see as the biggest challenge still ahead in tackling PED?
A. One, we still don’t know how it got into this country. And two, we’ve not identified every route of transmission. In discussions with veterinarians, there have been outbreaks on farms that they really have no good way of how it got there.
Q. What lessons can dairy farmers and others with livestock learn from the pork industry’s experience with this disease?
A. The scary thing about this disease is that it only affects swine and … it does not transmit through the air very well, and it spread to nearly 30 states and thousands of premises in less than a year. And the swine industry is one of our more bio-secure industries, meaning they do control movement, they’re more careful about sharing equipment and trucks, those kinds of things. They don’t commingle animals from different farms.
So, if this was a different virus that could affect cattle, sheep and goats, like foot and mouth disease, for example, how do we control that?