Knowledge is power, so goes the line from “Schoolhouse Rock” of the 1970s, as well as a phrase from Francis Bacon in the 1590s.
Regardless the source you look to, a vast knowledge is important to individuals and the world as a whole. Strength of knowledge was on full display on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago during the recent North American PRRS Symposium. Gathered were global experts in swine health, with a large focus on porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, and the continued efforts to eradicate or at least get a better control on the virus that has ravished the U.S. swine industry.
Bob Rowland, Kansas State University professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology and executive director of the annual PRRS Symposium, says though great strides have been made in the PRRS battle, more work still needs to be done. “We still don’t have an absolute cure for this disease, and when you put it in numbers and we talk about $500 to $600 million a year that PRRS has cost the pork industry, over the past 20 years you imagine that’s in the billions,” Rowland says in a National Hog Farmer Facebook Live event during the symposium. “Though we’re kind of in the same place, we have made dramatic improvements in development of vaccines and biosecurity, but we’re still not there yet.”
Scientists faced with a dilemma look for a solution, the magical “silver bullet” if you will, and Rowland says we have the PRRS silver bullet in the form of the PRRS-resistant pig that was announced at the PRRS Symposium a few years back.
“The genetically modified pigs (are the silver bullet), that are totally resistant to the virus, however,” and this is a big however, “it’s probably going to take a few years for those pigs to get into production. You know, there’s a lot of regulatory hurdles when you talk about biotechnology.”
Even after this “silver bullet” technology gets over the regulatory hurdles, an even greater hurdle to clear will be that of consumer acceptance. “At the end of the day it’s going to be up to the consumer, and that’s one thing that I know I can’t control being a scientist, that that’s something we all need to be aware of on the technology side.”
Even with all the knowledge that has been put into the development of PRRS vaccines and PRRS-resistant pigs, there may be a greater need of sharing knowledge with consumers of what PRRS-resistant pigs actually means. As we all know, consumers balk when they hear genetic engineering, biotechnology, as well as a host of other terms that can sound scary if you don’t have the proper knowledge.
The U.S. swine industry has years yet to learn more about PRRS-resistant pigs before they will be commercially available. Researchers will spend this time perfecting the technoloigy, while the rest of us can spend this time learning all that we can about what it means to the industry and to consumers.
Then, and maybe more importantly, we can spend time sharing our gained knowledge with consumers, those who may have the final say if the technology shows up in commercial barns in the United States.
Knowledge is power, and you have the knowledge and the power to share that with others, others who may determine the future of your industry.