“Cautious optimism” best describes industry reaction to USDA’s April 18 announcement that it would be issuing an order requiring mandatory reporting of herds diagnosed with porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV).
While the agency’s recognition of the disease’s ongoing impact on the U.S. pork industry was being welcomed, the announcement came nearly a year after PEDV was first detected in the U.S., and after it had spread to herds in 30-plus states. One battle-weary veterinarian suggested an appropriate announcement headline might have been “USDA Takes Action … a Year Late.”
Most, however, were not judging the move that harshly. In fact, much of what was contained in the announcement was not a surprise.
“NPPC [National Pork Producers Council] was made aware that the agency was considering a requirement to report occurrences of the diseases,” says Neil Dierks, NPPC CEO. That organization, along with the National Pork Board (NPB), American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV), state animal health officials and producers had already been working with USDA on dealing with PEDV, and more recently swine delta coronavirus, which was also included in the mandatory reporting announcement.
But since the announcement focused on the “what“ and not the “how,” questions were quickly raised about what the decision might mean to state animal health officials, diagnostic labs, herd veterinarians and especially producers. A fact sheet released by the USDA Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service did state that affected herds would be “required to identify themselves and report locations,” as would diagnostic labs.
While referring to the intent as “monitoring and control,” USDA did make it clear that the order is not meant to restrict the movement of pigs. However, it does require tracking of pig movement in some form yet to be determined. And in the U.S., pigs move a lot.
Tom Burkgren, American Association of Swine Veterinarians executive director, contacted some producers who, as a group, control about 200,000 sows, and asked how many pig movements per week they averaged. They totaled about 750 movements per week. He says projecting that to the U.S. sow herd puts nationwide weekly pig movements at about 25,000 per week. “There’s a lot of concern regarding the details,” he points out. “We need to figure out what will work.”
Discussions between USDA and stakeholders are underway to find workable processes that can meet the intent of the order. Depending on the outcome of those discussions, several concerns could be laid to rest. For example, Wisconsin State Veterinarian Paul McGraw notes that if tracking pig movement simply requires that producers keep on-farm records in the event that follow-up is needed, most of those likely exist already and would not put an added burden on producers.
The portion of the announcement that caught many industry observers off guard was USDA’s intent also to track the movement of vehicles and equipment. While PEDV’s ability to “hitchhike” has been well-documented, the potential scope and effectiveness of this requirement raises its own set of questions. In making his announcement, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “Today’s actions will help identify gaps in biosecurity, and help us as we work together to stop the spread of these diseases.”
Dierks confirms that USDA “has expressed the intent to assist with biosecurity,” including a mention of helping fund more truck-wash/baking facilities. Again, details are lacking, which feeds concerns. When it comes to biosecurity, “producers and their veterinarians are the experts,” Burkgren asserts. “It’s the tightest we’ve ever had. We don’t want to further disadvantage producers.”
While no one is rejecting USDA’s latest involvement in PEDV (USDA Agricultural Research Service has been involved in several projects targeting the disease over the past year), the industry reaction represents a mix of skepticism, appreciation and hope.
“This action would have been better-suited to the initial outbreak than now,” says AASV’s Burkgren. “To be honest, mandatory reporting was not at the top of our list. On the other hand, we can certainly use help with diagnostics and vaccine development.”
NPPC’s Dierks agrees there are still plenty of concerns to address and details to hammer out. But, he says, “From a 30,000-foot level, an effort which allows solid information gathering, which in turn can be used to scientifically guide efforts to combat these diseases and the pathways for these types of diseases entering our country, is sound. At the same time, it has to be done properly.”