The news of new PEDv cases is extremely unwelcome, but not entirely unexpected.
After nearly 16 months of being in the clear, three new cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea have been confirmed in Manitoba.
“We’re very disappointed this has happened,” said Andrew Dickson, general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council. “We’ve sent a note out to all our producers advising them that this has happened and encouraging them to step up their biosecurity. This is not a time to relax, this is time for constant vigilance.”
The most recent PED cases bring the total number of outbreaks in the province up to eight. The first reported case was diagnosed on Valentine’s Day, 2014 and the sixth case was identified at a sow barn this May 26. The seventh confirmed positive came only days later — from a finisher barn — on June 2.
Late Monday morning the province announced the disease had been found at another sow barn on June 4.
All confirmed cases of the disease have occurred in southeastern Manitoba, although exact locations have not been made public.
- Read more on AGCanada.com: Manitoba hog producers worry as PED continues spread
Dickson noted that finding the source of PED outbreaks has been challenging.
“This is a huge problem and we’ve had it with all the cases we’ve had in the province,” he said. “It’s been very difficult to pinpoint exactly how the disease got on the farm, because there is a gap between when the virus arrives and when the pigs start showing clinical symptoms.”
He added that given the vast number of people who interact with each farm, tracing the disease back to one source can take weeks — if it can be accomplished at all. The virus has also been found present in high-traffic areas of the province, like assembly yards.
The province’s chief veterinary officer Dr. Megan Bergman said the sixth case was diagnosed after a producer and their veterinarian noticed clinical signs. A sample later confirmed their suspicions.
“So really it’s a testament to how vigilant our producers have been,” she said, adding that both the seventh and eighth cases are within five kilometres of the sixth. “These producers have caught these cases quite quickly.”
She added the province is doing disease surveillance on hog farms within a five-kilometre radius of the infected operations and didn’t rule out the possibility of additional cases of the disease being discovered.
“I think we need to be conscious that it’s possible,” said Bergman. “I think that our producers are being extremely vigilant in upping their biosecurity measures and they are watching very closely… but it is possible.”
While proximity is a consideration, the chief vet said it was too early to say if the three most recent cases were linked, but the process of tracing the steps of everyone who came onto the farms is underway.
How each case is treated depends on details of the outbreak, which aren’t being made public. But a spokesperson for Manitoba Agriculture said full depopulation of the barns isn’t necessary to respond appropriately.
“Following standard industry practice, and depending on the circumstances in each situation, some animals may go to slaughter and others may be humanely euthanized when necessary for animal welfare reasons,” the spokesperson said.
It is also impossible to tell if the two new cases were the result of changes the Canadian Food Inspection Agency made to truck washing procedures last month, said Dickson. During the height of the PED outbreak in the United States the agency enacted a pilot program allowing Manitoba-bound livestock trucks to be scraped down and sealed south of the border, only to be washed once on Canadian soil.
The aim of the pilot program, which granted Manitoba an exemption to stated border regulations, was to prevent hog trailers from being contaminated with the PED virus at American truck washing stations where the disease was already present.
Despite industry protest, the program came to an end on May 2. Since that time trucks returning from U.S. hog facilities have been washed at stations in that country.
“We’re constantly being asked if there is a link with the change to CFIA regulation on trucks coming across the border and this case, but we have no firm evidence to say that,” Dickson said. “What we are saying is that we had a measure in place that was part of a package to try and deal with this disease and our view is that the federal government has weakened that package that we are using to try and keep this disease off our farms.”
Previous extensions to the truck washing program had been granted, but despite “oodles” of communication Dickson said that the current federal government could not be swayed from its position.
Larry Maguire, the Conservative member of parliament for Brandon-Souris has raised the issue in the House of Commons more than once, but said he did not receive a positive answer from Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay.
“We need a new policy, because there is too much at stake,” said Maguire. “Canadian farmers expect that the federal government will listen to them and act, and yet the minister of agriculture has shown total disregard by expressing that he will not intervene in this process.”
Dickson said that the council has long urged the federal government to change the regulations.
“There are no standards in the United States and there is no inspections being done, and we’re absolutely amazed that the truck driver is supposed to figure out which stations are doing a proper job and which aren’t,” he said. “Our approach was to have proper washing stations, we’ll have them inspected by veterinarians and we’ll follow internationally agreed upon standards. Industry is coming forward and actually asking for something stricter than the actual regulations, and still government isn’t happy.”
Bergman is advising that trucks be rewashed upon their return to Manitoba, stressing that biosecurity remains the key to preventing the spread of the PED virus.
“We do know that solid biosecurity measures work… so the most important thing is to have very strict biosecurity practices on the farm, know who is coming onto your property and where they have been before they come to your property,” she said. “We can’t eliminate risk, but we can reduce it.”