Since June, the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory has been in the thick of COVID-19 testing to help expedite test results at the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa. The ISU VDL has been conducting COVID-19 antibody testing and polymerase chain reaction testing, and in August was approved as a "reference laboratory" for human health care providers.
While the lab has been assisting on the human side, Rodger Main, director of operations for the diagnostic laboratory at Iowa State's College of Veterinary Medicine, says the VDL is ready to roll out the next phase of the U.S. Swine Health Improvement Plan.
"Unquestionably, COVID-19 continues to create a lot of hardship across our country, the pork industry and world, and perhaps such hardships as they say here, as in the very real and substantial industry and societal level stressors in play, make the timing of this pilot project, maybe far less than optimal," Main says. "However, just with our own personal experiences at the lab here in dealing with the COVID-19 response and so on, and based upon I think what we've kind of continued to learn through that, it might seem to suggest there's no better time than today to start this and move this pilot project forward."
The pilot project is an African swine fever and classical swine fever monitored certification program and comes after a 2018 study was commissioned with the aim of seeking a more-in-depth understanding of the National Poultry Improvement Plan and assessing the potential for an NPIP-like program to support the U.S. pork industry.
"NPIP is a cooperative industry, state and federal program that serves to certify and represent the health of U.S. poultry," Main says. "It's implemented across the U.S. poultry and egg industries and participation is voluntary, but essentially universal across U.S. poultry and egg industries, as NPIP health status classifications are the official recognized standards of health, and are used to demonstrate freedom of disease for both trade and non-trade impacting diseases."
NPIP is driven by a congress of industry stakeholders that comes together every two years to define and continually update the program. The program is facilitated by the USDA veterinary services whose primary aim is to provide some central coordination and maintain the program documents as being current. The official state agencies then adopt and administer the program to meet the poultry and egg industry needs within their state and to ensure enrolled producers and packers implement the program in accordance with the certifications they choose to hold.
"It's a very active process," Main says. "This program has been around since the mid-1930s and about every two years, they have about 42 proposals that are brought forth for consideration, for updating, and it's by a simple majority vote whether program updates are accepted or denied.
"Through our experiences in this case study, we really felt like a key part of that is that it really is a system driven by the industry stakeholders, in that it leverages the breadth of industry participant knowhow in helping define and more directly address poultry-health-related items of high relevance over time. There's a critical mass of participation and its essentially universal amongst commercial operations. It provides you clear and uniform standards across all 50 states, and it's internationally recognized via the USDA certification."
The ASF-CSF Monitored Certification Program will be modeled after the basic tenets of the NPIP's H5/H7 Avian Influenza Monitored Certification of U.S. commercial poultry operations. The USDA will be funding $495,000 for the two-year project, which will be administered by the ISU, University of Illinois, South Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota's Colleges of Veterinary Medicine.
Main says the purpose of the pilot project is enhanced preparedness in prevention, response and recovery; to reduce the impact of recurrent endemic disease of high consequence through the advancement of sanitary standards that mitigate a disease spread between farms; and finally to provide the U.S. pork industry firsthand experience in developing and implementing an NPIP program, such as the U.S. Swine Health Improvement Plan.
"Participation would be voluntary," Main says. "The participants would be the producers, packers and states along with some support being provided by our USDA colleagues. The certificate holders would be the producers and the packers."
Requirements for certification include:
- Enrollment and meeting requirements
- Valid veterinary client-patient relationship with an accredited veterinarian
- Sanitary standards for feed supply, on-farm, live-haul and movement to slaughter
- Traceability standards such as a premise identification number, current demographic and swine movement information available for electronic upload as needed
- Surveillance testing through state-of-the-art sampling regimens and diagnostic tools and based upon farm-type and ASF and CSF status of the United States
Governance would also mimic the NPIP system, Main says, and will include program administration and investigators as well as a general conference committee, technical advisory committee and a house of delegates. The certifying agency for the ASF-CSF Monitored Certification Program will be the official state agency.
This fall will be the formative stages of the pilot project and the program administrators will be working on establishing an advisory board, pilot project staff, technical committees and a house of delegates. The administrators will also be soliciting interest from producers, packers and states. Those interested will be able to enroll the first quarter of 2021. The project will be conducted from the second quarter of 2021 to the second quarter of 2022. After that, the parties involved will determine next steps, whether that be to extend the pilot program, terminate or transition to an official NPIP-like program.
"We're looking forward to moving this pilot project forward as we think it's a good first step forward on the multitude of ongoing efforts that are around enhancing, both FAD preparedness, as well as moving forward and evaluating this platform for addressing industry level issues of high relevance to the U.S. pork industry," Main says.