Is now the time to eliminate it from the U.S. swine herd?

Ann Hess, Content Director

January 30, 2024

5 Min Read
National Pork Board

Since porcine epidemic diarrhea virus entered the U.S. swine herd in 2013, it’s been an industry battle, both good and bad, says Bill Hollis. However, the veterinarian with Carthage Veterinary Service and founding partner of Professional Swine Management, says it’s time to reexamine the actual cost of PEDV to pork production systems and the benefits to eliminating the virus.

For example, he points out if a producer loses a months’ worth of piglets to PEDV at a 5,000-head sow farm, it will cost that producer $500,000. If there’s chronic activity in wean-to-market barns, that can cost the nursery $25,000, feeders $40,000 and in late marketing breaks, another $3 per pig. An outbreak at a 5,000-sow farm could end up impacting 11,250 pigs overall.

“We have clients that have fallen somewhat into that malaise of we know we're going to have some slaughter truck traffic that is going to get impacted. We know we're going to break in some finishing sites, that are late in finishing,” Hollis says. “We believe we can clean it up, but not always before the baby pigs arrive. Frankly, it's somewhat overlooked in terms of cost because if they're feeder pigs it might be a short-lived diarrhea, if they're slaughter pigs it might be overlooked, but I challenge us to just do the math, and from a simple population standpoint, it's the feed that goes in the pit.”

If a producer loses three days’ worth of feed, at six pounds per day, Hollis denotes that is 18 pounds of feed per pig lost down the pit. At 15 cents per pound, that’s a $3 loss per pig.

“We're going to have about 15% of the production going to slaughter, so if we're impacting a 15% prevalence in that population it's not huge, immediate dollars, it's that trickle out of that population and it's also compounding industry,” Hollis says.

According to the Morrison Swine Health Monitoring Project, PEDV has a 5% prevalence in U.S. sow herds. Five percent of 5.5 million, at $40 per weaner, equates to a $27 million loss annually, Hollis notes. Using the previous 15% prevalence for 60 million wean-to-market hogs, at $3 per pig, that adds another $27 million to the industry tab.

“We're losing $50 million annually as an industry, so now we have some target to focus on and respect that it's big-time winners and losers in the pursuit of this elimination,” Hollis says. However, he notes during the Allen D. Leman Swine Conference, Manitoba veterinarians shared their investigation estimated a $60 million annual loss from just that province alone.

He also advises not overlooking the hidden costs within PEDV activity, such as ongoing challenges in gilt development and ongoing staff challenges in outbreak control.

“If you're in the breeding stock business and you've got 50,000 gilts on feeds spread out around 10 counties you're waking up at night a little worried about where's PEDV activity, because your value in those animals is breeding stock and you immediately lose thousands of dollars with exposure in populations where you don't want to have it,” Hollis says. “At the same time, we have this pig flow disruption that leads to some confusion within the finishing barns, whether that's eliminating a certain site or we've got truck traffic that has to be moved separately.”

He says it's also important to remember when a naïve herd is impacted, all piglets die for a month.

Other hidden costs include operational challenges in herd flow and production, truck wash management and truck logistics and handling. New considerations also come into play during a PEDV outbreak that add to hidden costs, such as staged unloading at harvest, clean separate staffing for transport and washed slaughter trucks.

While the industry now knows PEDV elimination can be done in tightly controlled areas and there are modified live vaccine and immune products in development, the question remains who benefits from a PEDV elimination?

“We've already talked about producers losing $50 million a year. Production teams are going to gain from reducing this outbreak responsibility,” Hollis says. “Packers gain from a consistent supply, not only this predictable consistent supply, but they don't want to be the target for moving that virus back to somebody's gilt multiplier. And consumers gain from a reduction in that pass-through cost.”

However, Hollis reverts back to a 2015 economic analysis by Lee Schulz and Glynn Tonsor, that cautioned producers gains in aggregate are expected to incentivize expansion of the industry. In the absence of offsetting gains in externally driven demand, expansion will proceed to erode producer profitability.

“Back in 2015 we're working hard at elimination and at the same time working hard on expansion. So, are we now in a period where we're not believing there's going to be rapid expansion by the elimination of this virus? I would say we are,” Hollis says. “I think we've learned a few lessons in the last 12 months about our hemisphere and about pig supply and about pig demand for our product so I believe we're in a period where we have the right time to eliminate the virus.”

Hollis says elimination comes down to three simple steps: communication, immune control, and then organized debate and self-regulation.

“I would be highly encouraged by a strategy debate for the elimination of this virus from the growing pig population,” Hollis says. “I don't say we just run in and plow it into our sow farms. I would say in that growing pig population and then there's immune products that are out there under investigation we should continue to evaluate.”

He also encourages the industry to use the tools available today, like participating in the U.S. Swine Health Improvement Plan, which can help define elimination programs and where the value is for that pork production system. An organized debate within SHIP can also examine breeder certification of sites, regions for MLV use, transport risks and truck wash benefits.

“We also want to outline in that debate where are we going to use modified live vaccine so that there's not one person on an island getting rocks thrown at them, but rather regions, where we can work toward elimination, and that format has already started,” Hollis says.

The American Association of Swine Veterinarians Board of Directors has also identified a PEDV Elimination Task Force with the charge to advance the effort at getting rid of this disease. 

“We know it's at least $50 million a year that we're flushing through the pit and putting in the compost. The benefit I'd like to say is priceless.”

About the Author(s)

Ann Hess

Content Director, National Hog Farmer

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