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Will China buy more U.S. pork? Nine key questions

Mike Wilson/Farm Futures NHF-MikeWilson-pork in chinese food store-1540.jpg
A Chinese grocer rearranges pork products at a Beijing food store.

China’s hog herd is devastated by African swine fever. World hog production and profitability are at all-time highs. What does it all mean for U.S. pork producers? We caught up with Adam Speck, senior commodity market analyst with the IEG Vantage Livestock group, to learn what’s at stake:

Mike Wilson/Farm FuturesNHF-MikeWilsonFF-adam speck-Informa770.jpg

China may buy as much as 5% of U.S. pork production by 2020, says Informa Economics analyst Adam Speck.

How will China replace the pork production it lost from African swine fever?

When China announced that it had ASF, they put the world on notice: Hey, we’re going to need more pork. The question is, where will they get this pork? They will buy from the U.S., but they have other options as well. Right now, China has a much more favorable relationship with the European Union, Brazil and Russia, and all three regions will be up 3% to 4% in hog production this year. The U.S. will be up as much as 5% for the second half.

Does higher production translate to higher profitability?

The futures market is pricing in record profitability over the next 18 months. Record profits made in the past 60 days have almost negated losses from the past six months. China’s herd liquidation is one factor behind U.S. high profitability.

Sow prices in the last 60 days have really spiked. Why? Producers see high prices and have decided not to retire older sows, because they need production. The market is signaling to U.S. producers: “Go full tilt.” I believe we are paying too high a price for pork because there is a fear premium in the market right now. Our higher price point is already shutting out some poorer trade partners who can’t afford our higher prices. This is typical during summer price highs but will also be a factor this fall when U.S. pork prices don’t find the full price dip typical.

How much pork production will China lose from ASF?

We don’t know exactly how many hogs China has right now; the number out of China is whatever the government is willing to communicate, so accuracy is sometimes in question.

China has roughly 50% of the world’s hogs; as many as 400 million pigs. Their land mass is equivalent to the U.S. and hogs are densely located in about half that area.

China this year said their breeding herd was down 8.3 million sows, a very large number. Some estimate China will lose 30% to 35% of its production, but I believe they are doing everything possible to control this disease, so I think production will be down closer to 20% this year when we can analyze price in arrears. How much is that? As much as 90 million hogs, and that’s a significant number.

How will Chinese consumers respond to the loss of pork?

Most of the protein Chinese consume is pork, and that number is growing. We believe consumptive demand could be down as much as 17% in China as the year ends. They will not try to completely replace that loss with imports from other countries. It would not be physically possible; you would have to double global trade and that just won’t happen. They will eat more poultry, which is already double consumption levels of beef, or they will simply eat less animal protein.

What is the long-term impact of ASF in China?

ASF is a cousin to the Ebola virus. From contagion to death takes around 21 days. To eradicate it you must kill all the animals in the area, and in some cases burn the barn, otherwise let it rest for quite some time after applying commercial chemicals. China is going to battle this for quite some time — probably three to five years. It’s going to reshape the face of the Chinese herd and global pork production.

How much pork could China purchase from the United States?

On average they buy about 2% of our production. The highest amount China has purchased from the U.S. is nearly 4% of our production. Remember, Mexico takes, on average, 7%, so while China is seen as an 800-pound gorilla in world trade, they really haven’t been that big of a buyer of late from the U.S. We do not believe they will supplant Mexico as the biggest buyer of U.S. pork this year. That could happen but not until next year, and we would need to see a trade deal in place for it to happen.

We are going to have another year of record production. Our higher production will allow China to buy a greater percent of our production. That means by 2020 we’ll be seeing perhaps 3% or 4% of our total production purchased by China, maybe as much as 5% if they displace some smaller partners.

How does the tariff war play out in U.S. pork shipments to China?

Right now there is a 62% tariff in place by China against many of our pork products. Yet, we have seen an uptick in recent months on pork products shipped to China. We don’t have any visibility as to who sales partners are. But if it’s a state-owned enterprise, it can elect not to charge itself a tariff. COFCO, one of China’s state-owned food processing holding companies, could buy pork from the U.S. tariff free.

What happens if we get just one case of ASF here in the United States?

We would probably react far more swiftly than China did. But, the only cure is eradication of the entire herd present. You don’t know what other animals will be infected, and it can spread very quickly. So you would see barns managed harshly in a tight geographical location. Our export markets would dry up because no country wants to take the chance, from a disease control standpoint. ASF can live in chilled pork for quite some time. Higher prices would lock some export customers out of the market anyway.

How could swine fever get to the U.S.?

You can literally buy a ham sandwich or a sausage, bring it into the U.S., get past the customs watchdogs, and that’s it. One reason why the World Pork Expo was canceled this year is because there are many players in world pork that could have nefarious motives. It was a drastic decision, but the safest thing to do for the immediate future.

If someone wanted to plant it here in the United States, it could be done in a backpack. That’s why we have dogs at airports to try to stop this, and any time pork comes in it gets destroyed immediately.

There is no known vaccine, but they are in the works; some say they are 10 years out, some say they are two years out.

Here in the U.S. hogs are a big business, so we are doing everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen here.

Ceva to acquire IDT animal health business

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Ceva Santé Animale and IDT Biologika GmbH announced May 17 that they have reached a provisional agreement for Ceva to acquire IDT’s veterinary biopharmaceutical portfolio and research and development (R&D) activities, allowing IDT to focus on the manufacture of human biotechnology vaccines and pharmaceuticals for national and international markets.

The deal is subject to approval by Germany's Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt) and is expected to be concluded by July 1, the announcement said.

Strong synergies exist between the two companies’ swine and poultry vaccine ranges, and Ceva’s global geographic footprint will allow rapid expansion of the sales of the current IDT product range to the rest of the world, the companies said.

With the global shift towards preventative medicines, both companies have a long history and track record of developing vaccines. Ceva said it plans to invest significantly in the development of a new Global Swine Innovation Center at IDT’s existing site in Dessau, Germany, as well as at IDT Research in Riems, Germany. The center will strengthen Ceva’s biological R&D capabilities, bringing together two highly skilled research teams and innovative pipelines with strong growth potential, according to the announcement.

IDT, a member of the Klocke Group, has significant expertise in a number of other areas, including autogenous vaccines and oral vaccination for the control of endemic disease in wildlife and free-roaming animals, adding important new technology -- especially in rabies control -- to Ceva’s growing public health business.

“From the moment we began talking, it was obvious that with our respective long histories in producing vaccines, we shared a lot of common values through our private, employee and family-owned business structures. Bringing together the two teams will significantly strengthen our biological innovation and development, which is particularly important given the essential role vaccines play in reducing the need for antibiotics, which are critical to the future health of people and animals,” Ceva chairman and chief executive officer Dr. Marc Prikazsky said.

Klocke Holding CEO Carsten Klocke added, “We’ve known Ceva for a long time and picked them intentionally as the ideal partner to ensure the future growth of IDT’s existing animal health products and the strong pipeline, which will also benefit from their international presence and setup. Our colleagues from R&D and sales will become an important part of the sixth-largest and one of the fastest-growing animal health companies in the world. ... Nevertheless, we will continue to manufacture the divested animal health products for Ceva, for at least five years at our Dessau site. This transaction and the clear focus will allow IDT to grow even faster and at the same time mutually support the One Health Initiative -- IDT in human and our partner, Ceva, in animal health.”

No further public announcements are planned until the terms are definitively approved by Bundeskartellamt.

Ceva Santé Animale is a France-based multinational veterinary pharmaceutical company created in 1999. Ceva specializes in the research, development, production and marketing of pharmaceutical products and vaccines for livestock (ruminants, swine and poultry) and companion animals. Ceva is present in 110 countries and employs more than 5,700 people worldwide.

IDT Biologika is an innovative, privately held company with nearly 100 years of experience in researching, developing, manufacturing and marketing products for the global protection of human and animal health.

IDT's animal health business is marketed internationally from its offices in Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Poland and Canada. In the U.S., IDT Corp. operates a production site for clinical test samples in Rockville, Md. In Canada, IDT Biologika subsidiary Gallant Custom Laboratories manufactures autogenous vaccines. The same vaccines are produced by the recently acquired IDT subsidiary in the U.K., Ridgeway Biologicals.

IDT Biologika is a member of the Klocke Group, which is specialized in contract production and packaging of medications, vaccines and cosmetic products.

Source: Ceva Santé Animale, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

CPC calls for eradicating wild pigs, boosting biosecurity

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While the threat of African swine fever is real, Canadian Pork Council 2nd Vice-Chair and Québec pork producer René Roy says the strong, well-established animal health system in Canada and the nation's pork producers have a critical role in keeping the disease at bay. Roy represented the industry’s 7,000 producers Thursday in front of Canada's Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. 

Roy highlighted the fact that ASF is not a food safety issue but rather a virus that affects pigs. Canada’s pork sector exports 70% of its production. In response to an ASF outbreak those export markets would close, and a growing, globally competitive, $24 billion sector would be destroyed.

“Pork producers have invested heavily in traceability, biosecurity, extension and research” says Roy. “We are very thankful for the great collaboration between government and industry stakeholders, here, and abroad, to prevent the virus from reaching our herds, and to prepare for that eventuality.” 

In addition to multiple measures being put in place to prevent and prepare for an ASF outbreak in Canada, the pork sector believes there are four key priorities to address:

  1. Wild pigs, an invasive species, must be eradicated.
  2. Biosecurity measures - both on the farm and at the border - must be enhanced to prevent disease entry.
  3. Canda's traceability, biosecurity and surveillance systems must be strengthened to ensure they support rapid zoning and the reopening of export markets.
  4. Communication with a wide range of differing stakeholders, both before and during an outbreak, must be addressed.

Rick Bergman, CPC Chair notes the need for increased resources: “To date, our response has been to simply roll up our sleeves and work a little harder. Very few new resources, apart from the detector dogs, have been brought to the battle. While this has yielded good results over the short-term, it is not sustainable.”

Over the next few weeks, the Canadian Pork Council is asking that funding be put in place under the Canadian Agricultural Partnerships Program to address the immediate priorities. In addition, the council asks Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau to proceed with the establishment of the national Pork Promotion and Research Agency.

In 2016, the Farm Products Council of Canada completed its formal review of the Canadian Pork Council’s proposal for a promotion and research agency. It was the Farm Products Council’s conclusion that an agency should be established. The CPC says unfortunately, the Government of Canada continues to deny the pork sector access to this source of private sector funding.

“Armed with additional resources we will protect the sector, ensure it continues to provide Canadians with a secure supply of nutritious, high-quality pork and that it remains an important contributor to the Canadian economy” says Roy.

Source: Canadian Pork Council, which is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

Method removes bacteria from boar semen

pen of boars

Antibiotics may be added to semen extenders when preparing commercial semen doses for artificial insemination according to national and international guidelines, but this practice could represent a non-therapeutic usage and contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance, according to a recent post in the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) Knowledge Bank.

A study reported by J.M. Morrell et al. in the journal Theriogenology showed that colloid centrifugation reduced the load of bacteria present in boar semen and was capable of removing all bacteria if performed directly after semen collection, albeit with some loss of spermatozoa, SLU noted.

The present experiment was conducted with a low-density colloid to investigate whether it was possible to separate all of the spermatozoa from seminal plasma — i.e., without selection for robust spermatozoa — or whether this would have a detrimental effect on sperm quality, the researchers said.

According to the post, ejaculates from nine boars were extended in Beltsville Thawing Solution without antibiotics and were transported to the laboratory for single layer centrifugation on modified Porcicoll i.e. at a low density (S). A further modification was that a sterile inner tube was included inside some of the 50 mL centrifuge tubes to facilitate harvesting of the sperm pellet (M). Aliquots of all samples (control, S and M) were cultured for bacterial quantification and identification using standard microbiological methods. Sperm quality was evaluated daily.

Three of the control and M samples and five of the S samples did not contain any bacteria, the researchers said. Mean bacterial counts for the remaining samples (colony forming units [CFU] per milliliter) were as follows: control, 259 + 216 CFU/mL; S, 30 + 22 CFU/mL, and M, 33 + 15 CFU/mL (P < 0.01).

Citrobacter spp., Staphylococcus simulans, Klebsiella variicola, Escherichia coli, Myroides odoratimimus, Proteus spp. and Enterococcus faecalis were identified in the control samples, they noted.

According to the researchers, there were marginal differences in sperm quality among treatments, with sperm velocity and linearity being higher in S and M samples than in control samples at all time points. However, sperm viability, capacitation and acrosome status on day 0 were marginally better in controls than in S or M, but these differences disappeared during storage, the researchers added.

Morrell et al. concluded that centrifugation through a low-density colloid can remove or reduce bacterial contamination in boar ejaculates without using antibiotics. Furthermore, it is possible to collect boar ejaculates without bacterial contamination by paying strict attention to hygiene, the researchers added.

MORNING Midwest Digest, May 17, 2019

The wet and stormy weather continues this weekend and into next week.

Analysts think the corn crop will still show less than half planted come Monday.

Make sure your passport is up to date if traveling outside the U.S. this summer. Where will people from different regions travel?

Have you used medical travel insurance? Don't skimp on it, says Max.


Photo: Westend61/Getty Imgaes


Farm Progress America, May 17, 2019

Max Armstrong shares insight on the challenges of getting the U.S. Mexico and Canada Agreement passed. There are several steps that have to happen to get legislative approval, including the stumbling block of U.S. tariffs on aluminum and steel tariffs. Max shares that Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has said that with the tariffs in place USMCA “is dead.”

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Image: Evgeny Gromov/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Tyson sues USDA over negligent pork inspections

Tyson sues USDA over negligent pork inspections

Tyson Foods filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture accusing an inspector of falsifying inspections for more than 4,600 hogs. The action forced the company to destroy 8,000 carcasses and resulted in $2.4 million in losses and expenses.

In court documents filed May 14, Tyson stated that Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) inspector Dr. Yolanda Thompson signed off on ante-mortem inspections of 4,622 hogs in March 2018 at the company’s Storm Lake, Iowa, plant. Video footage later showed that Thompson never entered the plant and signed the inspection cards while sitting in her vehicle.

"Prior to the time that Dr. Thompson conducted the negligent inspection, other USDA and/or FSIS employees and inspectors were aware of deficiencies in the quality, scope and integrity of Dr. Thompson's inspection practices," Tyson claimed in the lawsuit.

Tyson’s suit said USDA and FSIS were aware of Thompson’s inspection practices as well as physical limitations and should not have assigned her to the pork processing plant.

The complaint also noted that Thompson had difficulty walking and that her normal inspection site was the smaller turkey processing plant.

"The United States should have recognized Thompson's unfitness to perform the inspections that were necessary for the protection of Tyson's property. However, the United States failed to so recognize, resulting in the destruction of approximately 8,000 hog carcasses, causing injury to Tyson," the company added.

The lawsuit said FSIS personnel did inform Tyson the following day that Thompson had not performed the inspections, but the uninspected carcasses had already been mixed with additional ones.

Tyson claimed a loss of $1.85 million for the destroyed carcasses, in addition to nearly $315,000 in cancelled sales, $213,000 from a reduction of normal processing activities while diverting resources to respond to the situation, $50,000 in freight and storage fees and $51,000 in overtime hours worked to resolve the situation.

In November, USDA denied Tyson's attempts to claim damages leading to the current lawsuit. The federal government has until June 5 to file a response to Tyson's complaint.

In a request for comment, FSIS public affairs specialist Buck McKay said FSIS is unable to comment on the pending lawsuit.

Tyson spokesperson Gary Mickelson also said, “We currently have no additional comment beyond what is included in the lawsuit.”

USDA to enhance ASF surveillance efforts

DarcyMaulsby/iStock/Thinkstock hogs in finishing barn

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced May 16 that it is furthering its overall African swine fever (ASF) preparedness efforts with the implementation of a surveillance plan. As part of this plan, USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will work with the swine industry, states and veterinary diagnostic laboratories to test for ASF.

ASF is a highly contagious and deadly disease affecting both domesticated and feral (wild) pigs. It does not affect human health and cannot be transmitted from pigs to people. ASF has never been detected in the U.S.

“African swine fever is an area of high interest among the veterinary community and our swine industry, and we continue to take action to prepare for this deadly disease,” said Greg Ibach, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. “While we are confident that our overlapping safeguards will continue to keep ASF out of the United States, an enhanced surveillance program will serve as an early-warning system, helping us find any potential disease much more quickly. It will also minimize virus spread and support efforts to restore trade markets and animal movements as quickly as possible should the disease be detected.”

To make this program as effective and efficient as possible, USDA will add ASF testing to its existing classical swine fever surveillance. The agency will test samples from the same high-risk animals using the same overall process but will test for both diseases instead of one.

USDA and its partners expect to begin ASF surveillance efforts within weeks and will implement the full surveillance plan over the course of the spring, the announcement said.

The surveillance effort will test samples from high-risk animals, including sick pig submissions to veterinary diagnostic laboratories, sick or dead pigs at slaughter and pigs from herds that are at greater risk for disease through such factors as exposure to feral swine or garbage feeding, USDA said.

In addition, USDA will work with state and federal partners to identify and investigate incidents involving sick or dead feral swine to determine if they should be tested for ASF or other foreign animal diseases.

The surveillance testing of commercial swine herds is in addition to USDA’s overall ASF prevention effort, which includes:

  • Working with officials in Canada and Mexico on a North American coordinated approach to ASF defense, response and trade maintenance;
  • Working with U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) at ports of entry, paying particular attention to cargo, passengers and products arriving from China and other ASF-affected countries;
  • Increasing detector dog teams with CBP to sniff out illegal products at key U.S. commercial sea and airports;
  • Collaborating with states, industry and producers to ensure that everyone follows strict on-farm biosecurity protocols and best practices (including for garbage feeding in states where that practice is allowed);
  • Restricting imports of pork and pork products from affected countries;
  • Coordinating closely on response plans with the U.S. pork industry, producers and states to be ready should a detection ever occur in the U.S., and
  • Expanding the testing capabilities and testing capacity of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

USDA said its overall goal remains to keep this deadly disease out of the U.S. For more information, visit APHIS's updated ASF webpage at

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) applauded the additional measures.

"U.S. pork producers are already suffering as a result of numerous trade disputes with top importing countries, and an outbreak of ASF in the United States would be devastating," said NPPC president David Herring, a pork producer from Lillington, N.C. "That's why it's so important we have a strong surveillance program: to ensure early notification of any spread of the virus. With no vaccination available, prevention is our only defense. We thank USDA for today's announcement and look forward to working with the agency to strengthen safeguards to protect our animals."

The National Pork Board was also pleased with the announcement. 

“This enhanced ability by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to test for ASF simultaneously with classical swine fever only helps to improve the pork industry’s overall surveillance capabilities,” said Dave Pyburn, DVM, senior vice president of the Pork Checkoff’s science and technology department. “As USDA Undersecretary Greg Ibach said, this change offers us a faster way to find any potential disease and that is something we always welcome.”

Like classical swine fever, ASF does not affect human health and cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans, it remains a top concern for the U.S. pork industry as the virus continues to spread globally.

“We continue to collaborate with USDA and all of our industry partners to find new ways to enhance preparedness for foreign animal diseases,” Pyburn said. “Anything that we can do to improve surveillance and mitigate risk is something we want to achieve so that we can help keep our country free of these costly diseases. We also want to have every possible advantage if these diseases do reach our shores so that we can quickly restore animal health, animal movements and trade for business continuity.”

’19 Pork Masters: Protecting our U.S. pork population

National Hog Farmer/Ann Hess From an early age, Scott Dee says he loved science and probably would even have considered being a doctor, having grown up near the Mayo Clinic. But there was one career aspiration he just couldn’t shake off.
From an early age, Scott Dee says he loved science and probably would even have considered being a doctor, having grown up near the Mayo Clinic. But there was one career aspiration he just couldn’t shake off.

The Dutch Postimpressionist painter Vincent van Gogh once said, “I would rather die of passion than boredom.” For U.S. pork producers and the global swine industry, it’s a good thing Scott Dee also embraces that philosophy; after all, it was often boredom that led him to some of his most profound research discoveries.

“I must have a 10-year itch,” says the director of research at Pipestone Veterinary Services.

During his 32-year career in microbiology and swine veterinary medicine, it was that itch and an innate inquisitive nature that often drove Dee to take the road less traveled and find answers to some of the industry’s most perplexing challenges. We now know that subpopulations in the breeding herd can spread viruses, that air filtration can stop the spread of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, and that viruses such as foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever can survive in feed in a journey from halfway around the world to the heart of America.

For these contributions and many more, Dee has been chosen as one of the 2019 Masters of the Pork Industry.

Humble beginnings
From the start, Dee realized he was an outsider looking in. Growing up in Rochester, Minn., he didn’t hail from a long line of agriculturists or veterinarians. His father was a high-ranking executive at IBM in procurement who traveled the world. His mother was a schoolteacher who stayed at home once Dee and his brother and sister came along.

From an early age, Dee says he loved science and probably would have even considered being a doctor, having grown up near the Mayo Clinic, but there was one career aspiration he just couldn’t shake off.

“I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian since I was 5, but I didn’t know anything about agriculture, or anything about pigs or anything about farms. I just loved dogs, and I thought to be a doctor of dogs would be a really cool job. That was a very simple beginning, but then my dad told me that was called being a veterinarian,” Dee says. “At 5 years old, that became my goal.”

It wasn’t until he was a pre-vet student at Gustavus Adolphus College and took an internship one summer with Mayo Clinic’s research farm that he knew he wanted to move his studies from the exam table to the barns. Using animals as models for human conditions, Dee was exposed to working with populations — pigs with a hemophilia condition, goats that had a neuromuscular condition, etc.

“I had never seen interactions of animals and pathogens in a group,” Dee says. “The other thing I saw there was research, because they were using these herds and flocks to study human conditions, and they were running trials. I got to see how animals and veterinary medicine could be part of research to help people.”

He then turned his attention to veterinary school at the University of Minnesota; it just took a while to get there.

3rd time’s a charm
After three years, two previous attempts to get in and a master’s degree in microbiology, the third time was a charm for Dee. Looking back, Dee says it was a very nontraditional way of getting into veterinary medicine, but it was a route that proved most valuable.

“I did go to the university but went in a backwards route — which ended up kind of fortuitous, because I met Al Leman, Han Soo Joo, Bob Morrison, Carlos Pijoan, Tom Molitor — all of those people who became big mentors for me and got me really excited about pigs,” Dee says. “That’s how I got into pigs, because if you spent any time with Al Leman, he could talk you into studying llamas — he was so persuasive and such a recruiter — and then just the scientific aspects of that swine group.”

At one point, Dee considered becoming a swine researcher with an applied nature, since he enjoyed the field and working with the species so much, but he couldn’t give up on his childhood dream to become a veterinarian.

“I think I got to know enough people in veterinary school that knew who I was, and that I wasn’t just a number when applications came through. I also had some nice letters of reference from some of those esteemed professors,” Dee says. “I was always just missing it by a fraction of a point. It was frustrating as all heck, but good things are meant to work out.”

Learning from the best
After graduating in 1987, Dee took his first job as a swine practitioner for Swine Vet Center in Morris, Minn., working under the direction of the late Rod Johnson and Nathan Winkelman. During those formative years, Dee credits much of what he learned from meeting some of Minnesota’s most famous pork producers, such as Steve Langhorst, Kent Holden and the late Bob Christensen.

“I was spending a lot of time riding as a vet student with Tim Loula [co-founder of Swine Vet Center], and he introduced me to these legends of the industry,” Dee says. “They were very critical thinkers. They seemed to have a very scientific perspective on decision-making.”

They were also open to new ideas.

“They liked somebody that kind of came out of left field and threw them a curve on a different way of thinking,” Dee says. “They were open to that but were always ready to challenge and ask a question back.”

That was “pre-PRRS,” as Dee says, and then everything changed.

Mystery disease
When the “mystery disease” first broke in the Midwest in 1989, Dee was single at the time. During the day, he would go from farm to farm, only to discover the same story: dead pigs, dead pigs, dead pigs. Nothing could fix it. At night, he would go back to his apartment in Morris and hang his head in despair.

“Going through those first cases of mystery swine disease was probably the worst time in my life,” Dee says. “I actually got very depressed because I was so worthless as a veterinarian. Nobody knew what it was.”

Feeling “like a complete failure,” Dee knew the only thing that could save him was to go back to graduate school. From 1993 to 1996, Dee stayed in practice but returned to U-M, where he worked on his doctorate on PRRS control under the advisement of Han Soo Joo. What came out of that, Dee says, was the greatest experience of his professional life.

From the thesis came the “theory of subpopulations in the breeding herd” which demonstrated that in a PRRS virus-infected population of sows, there could be some positives and some negatives; and the positive ones could shed the virus to the negative ones.

“That was a new concept. No one had thought of a population with an unequal immune status,” Dee says. “Then, we proved the gilt was the main driver of subpopulation development, as negative animals entering a positive herd. We also did the very first studies showing that delayed entry of gilts into the breeding herd helped reduce viral spread. This led to the concept of herd closure and viral elimination.”

However, Dee says the biggest outcome of the thesis was developing the strategy of nursery depopulation: that is, taking a chronically infected nursery and emptying it, moving pigs off-site, washing and disinfecting the facility, and then weaning pigs back in. He calls it a “mini version” of today’s all in-all out system.

“We learned that the reservoir of virus to newly weaned pigs was chronically infected 8- to 10-week-old pigs. Let’s remove the source and then wean clean pigs into a clean facility,” Dee says. “It showed if you could identify where the high-risk sources of virus were postweaning, and empty the facility, you could break the cycle of infection.”

At the time Dee says it was groundbreaking research for the industry, but it also helped him personally.

“It saved me, because I was at the bottom,” Dee says.

Sarah Probst Miller/AgCreate SolutionsDee (center), along with his U-M Veterinary College of Medicine graduate team — Eduardo Fano and Satoshi Otake (back) and Jean Paul Cano and Andrea Pitkin (seated) — discovered viruses could spread through needles, contaminated boots and coveralls.

Dee (center), along with his U-M Veterinary College of Medicine graduate team — Eduardo Fano and Satoshi Otake (back) and Jean Paul Cano and Andrea Pitkin (seated) — discovered viruses could spread through needles, contaminated boots and coveralls, people’s hands, insects, trucks and hair.

Restless and relentless
After receiving his doctorate, Dee returned to the private practice full time, but after a month or two, he was restless.

“I was getting so bored with my day-to-day,” Dee says. “I wasn’t getting any mental challenges anymore — and to be honest, PRRS virus was changing and getting more and more difficult to manage and I saw the need for more research on the transmission and biosecurity. And I knew I could only do that if I was in a 100% research-focused environment.”

He decided to take a position as associate professor at the U-M Veterinary College of Medicine and began a 12-year stint studying PRRS virus transmission and biosecurity. During that time, he and his graduate students — Satoshi Otake, Andrea Pitkin, Jean Paul Cano and Eduardo Fano — discovered viruses could spread through needles, contaminated boots and coveralls, people’s hands, insects, trucks and hair. Along the way, they developed biosecurity protocols for each of those, and they tested them before rolling them out to the real world.

“Very quickly, farm biosecurity began to improve — especially in the Midwest, but even around the world,” Dee says. “People were asking ‘How do you clean a truck, a trailer? How do you stop needle spread?’”

Next, Dee turned his attention to airborne transmission, an idea he was having a terrible time proving at the university.

One of his students, Jenny Cho, then determined that a new strain, MN-184, seemed to be traveling between farms more easily in spite of stringent biosecurity efforts in place. This set the stage for more research, leading Dee and his team to prove that all strains are not created equal when it comes to aerosol.

“We showed that certain strains like 184 spread easily by aerosol, and some older strains did not,” Dee says. “PRRS virus had adapted somehow to become more of an aerosol threat than just a simple mechanical threat.”

Filtering U.S. systems
The aerosol threat bothered Dee, and it sent him overseas to the “Iowa of France,” as he refers to the administrative region of Brittany. In this hog-dense region, the pork producers had been very successful in keeping PRRS out by using a positive-pressure HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration system.

“I knew I had to figure out a way to make this happen under negative-pressure ventilation and using a much cheaper filter,” Dee says.

Along with Pitkin and Otake, Dee set up the production region model consisting of four buildings, all close to one another. One facility contained 300 grow-finish pigs, the “source population;” and downwind from that sat three small double-L nurseries — some filtered and some not. The source population was infected with the MN-184 PRRS virus strain and Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae. Downwind were the nursery barns housing negative pigs, and every two weeks new pigs were brought into the source herd to “keep the infection active.”

Using this approach, airborne pathogens were detected in exhausted air from the source population, across the landscape and right outside the downwind facilities. However, the barn that was filtered always remained free of infection.

In addition, Dee teamed up with Steve Pohl, South Dakota State University professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, who could calculate the correct number of cubic feet per minute and the airflow, measure the resistance, and determine how many filters and how much inlet space was needed to ensure the pigs would get enough air.  Dee could manage the virus, and Pohl could handle the engineering aspect; however, they still needed some farms to test out their theories.

Cue in Gordon Spronk, co-founder of Pipestone System, who believed he had PRRS-positive farms getting infected by aerosol.

Spronk had the vision of filtering a large commercial sow farm, something that had never been done at that time. The sow farm that Spronk suggested had 3,000 sows, was in the heart of pig production in southern Minnesota and broke at least once every year with a different strain of PRRS virus. The filtration practice had worked on a small scale, both in the boar stud and the production-region model. Would it work in a real-world model?

With the team’s filtration system in place, that barn stayed PRRS-free for the first year, which it never had done before, and it is still filtered today. Of the 70-plus farms Pipestone manages today, more than 60% are now filtered.

A job, please
After the air filtration project, Dee admits he once again found himself getting bored and was looking to move on to the next challenge.

“I loved my time at the U-M, but I saw the opportunity at Pipestone to work with big systems and a very aggressive, research-minded group of veterinarians — and it just seemed like I could make a bigger impact here working on this air filtration aspect rather than at the university,” Dee says. “I was a tenured full professor and could have stayed there for life, but the itch wouldn’t stop!”

In 2011, he approached Spronk and Luke Minion, Pipestone CEO, and asked for a job. They didn’t know exactly what he was going to do, but they agreed he could continue his research in filtration and go from there.

“I was so excited to join Pipestone,” Dee says. “I had all these friends that were vets on staff, and I loved the company culture of wanting to do things based on science, based on economics, with the ultimate goal of serving the producer.”

Then came porcine epidemic diarrhea virus in 2014, and everything changed again.

“PEDV was getting into these ‘bulletproof’ farms of ours. They had air filters, they had truck washes, they had shower in-shower outs,” Dee says. “They were like Cadillacs. They had not been infected with PRRS virus for years, and then all of a sudden, we had a rash of PEDV-infected farms the first week of January 2014.”

With no other link among the farms, the Pipestone team put their heads together and determined it had to be feed.

“You couldn’t spread a disease that fast if you drove by a farm and threw it in the window,” Dee says.

To prove it, Dee, along with Pipestone team members Joel Nerem and Adam Schelkopf, identified a subset of recently infected sow farms that were completely unrelated as far as mill, transport and people. All had an index group of sows, or a little cluster of animals that had the clinical signs of PEDV, but the disease hadn’t spread through the whole site yet. Each farm’s index group of sows had been fed through the same bin, and all had experienced a feed outage at the same time.

The challenge was how to collect the best sample to represent tons of feed. Looking down into the feed bin, Dee noticed feed dust material hanging around the inside; and he thought if he could get some of that dust, it would best represent all those tons that came through that bin. With a long pole and a paint roller, Dee collected his sample and sent it off to a diagnostic lab to see if the virus was present in the bin. PEDV was there.

Since that was just polymerase chain reaction testing, he next ran a bioassay at SDSU to see if the virus was alive and could infect pigs. Sure enough, the virus in the bin was alive.

Looking back, Dee says that was a major turning point in his career at Pipestone. Feed biosecurity was uncharted territory for the veterinarian, and at the time, some of his research was met with resistance. Spronk encouraged Dee to carry on, but to make sure it didn’t look like they were “throwing stones” at the feed industry by any means. Instead, he wanted everyone to work together to protect farms.

“The feed industry has a completely different mindset with ASF than they were PED, because we are not infected,” Dee says. “Now they are trying to do everything they can to proactively share their QC [quality control] protocols. It has been very impressive.”

Pipestone Applied ResearchFeed biosecurity was uncharted territory for Dee, and in 2014, some of his research was met with resistance.

Feed biosecurity was uncharted territory for Dee, and in 2014, some of his research was met with resistance.

Transboundary survival
After the U.S. became infected with PEDV, the Pipestone team raised the question of whether contaminated feed could have served as a vehicle for the initial virus entry into the U.S. swine population from China, due to similarity in genetic relationship.

“At Gordon’s request, I visited his brother Randy’s feed mill and saw many bags of feed ingredients that had been sourced from China,” Dee says.

Dee came up with a novel idea to study the theory: a transpacific transportation model. By spiking feed ingredients commonly imported from China to the U.S. with PEDV, and subjecting the mixtures to environmental conditions simulating a 37-day trip from Beijing to Des Moines, Iowa, he — along with Eric Nelson and Diego Diel from SDSU — showed that PEDV survived the transport period in five key ingredients used to formulate porcine rations, including soybean meal (organic and conventional), vitamin D, lysine hydrochloride and choline chloride.

This new “CSI approach” captured the attention of Paul Sundberg, who was just starting the Swine Health Information Center. He liked the model and asked them to test 10 more viruses, one being ASF virus. SDSU and Pipestone had no way of working with that virus; however, Kansas State University had just opened its Biosecurity Research Institute, a biosafety level-3 facility, and could work with the actual ASF strain that broke out in the republic of Georgia.

“I had always appreciated the work of Megan Niederwerder from KSU, and we asked her to join the team,” Dee says.

Since ASF wasn’t in China at the time, but in Eastern Europe, Dee developed a transatlantic model starting in Warsaw, Poland, and traveling all the way to Des Moines. As they published in the journal PLOS One, seven of the 11 animal viruses tested survived the transglobal journey from either China or Europe to the United States in multiple feed ingredients.

Since the transport research, Niederwerder has published a study confirming ASF can be easily transmitted through the natural consumption of contaminated feed and liquid. Dee calls it the “ripple effect” of research and couldn’t be more pleased.

“It could be the best thing I’ve ever done. It could be the final thing I do with the greatest impact. If we can show this idea of feed risk that came out of Pipestone and turn it into this global effort with all the support of multiple universities, it will be a true ‘win-win,’” Dee says. “It’s the ripple effect. This whole thing on feed is affecting not only the swine industry but the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, the USDA, FDA, DHS [Department of Homeland Security], all the way up to Capitol Hill.”

With the recent decision of the Canadian Food Inspection Association to restrict imports of high-risk ingredients from ASF-infected countries and the National Pork Producers Council’s passage of resolutions at National Pork Forum to do the same in the U.S., Dee says things are changing fast.

“The risk of feed is a big huge elephant in the room that no one has ever really looked at before, and all of a sudden, we have this data set that clearly states that the virus can live in feed [transport], and pigs can become infected by eating it [transmission]; it’s a significant paradigm shift,” Dee says.

2019: Year of the mitigant
Following the positive results on virus transport and transmission, Dee put out a call to the feed industry to see if there were companies interested in testing additives. What’s come forth have mainly been organic acid mixes, medium-chain fatty acid blends and formaldehyde-based products; Dee says so far, he’s seeing promising results with the chemistries, not sterilizing the feed but reducing virus load, and either preventing infection or minimizing clinical signs of several viruses.

“That could be a great tool for us if we can adapt that, either into wide-scale application or the importing of products that we have been treating or storing,” Dee says.

He calls 2019 “the year of the mitigant” and plans to test 10 additional products this year. The 60-year-old plans to retire in the next four to five years, so he recognizes this could be his final contribution to the industry.

“Along with Gordon, I’m going to put the coals to this feed thing, and hopefully four to five years from now, our industry is still free of foreign animal diseases which are spread through feed, and it will be time to pass the torch to others” Dee says.

Looking back
If he had to do it all over again, Dee says he wouldn’t change a thing, even if he took a less traditional route. He’s been blessed with a supportive family: his wife of 26 years, Lisa; and their children, Nicholas and Ellen, currently students at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. Every time Dee has taken a new position in Minnesota, his family had held down the home base in Alexandria.

“Rule No. 1 for any job I’ve taken: I’m the one that moves. Everyone else stays, because that’s what they want to do,” Dee says.

While he misses his early mentors Pijoan and Leman, he’s especially enjoyed the last 10 years working with Spronk.

“He’s both a best friend and a big brother. He’s the primary reason I came to Pipestone,” Dee says. “The more time we spent together, the more we realized we think a lot alike, and we get along, and we have fun together.”

His work with PEDV in feed may have started a new chapter in veterinary medicine; however, Dee says it’s been more fulfilling to see his current feed work getting replicated by multiple universities and multiple people.

“Many groups are showing that this is a reproducible event, not just something I did by myself,” Dee says. “That is what I’m really proud of, and it gives me confidence that the results are right, because it’s a big hairy deal to try to deal with the feed system. KSU, SDSU, ISU [Iowa State University] and U-M have all made significant contributions and replicated the work.”

Future looks bright
Dee is confident the industry will be in good shape 10 years down the road, with so many bright young minds coming up in the ranks.

“We have so many bright people that are so proactive, we are going to remain free of foreign animal diseases because we are going to adapt,” Dee says. “The industry adapts so quickly. If there is good science behind it, there is usually pretty good acceptance. It’s so great to see producer leadership here in the U.S. That’s how it’s meant to be”.

His advice to those rising young stars includes tapping into the right side of the brain and having an appreciation for the fine arts. He’s often found inspiration from playing the bass and listening to Paul McCartney and the Beatles.

Finally, he suggests staying curious. “Have an inquisitive nature; ask the right questions,” Dee says. “When on-farm, look for things that don’t make sense and try to determine if there is a better way to accomplish the task!”

Are consumers choosing pork away from home?

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The National Pork Board has released its latest findings from the comprehensive Insight to Action research, this time uncovering what diners are craving and why.

The Pork Board’s All About Dining Out: What’s on Trend report uncovers why consumers decide to eat the proteins they do and explores tactics so that foodservice operators can meet those needs, such as exploring new flavors, dishes and menu formats. Similar to the Pork Board’s findings from the previous report, Dinner at Home in America, there is an overarching high level of consumer satisfaction with dishes that feature pork, pointing to opportunity for incorporating pork in new ways on menus.

“With rapidly changing innovations, technology and competition, foodservice providers who truly understand what diners want – and deliver on it – will stand the test of time,” says Steve Rommereim, president of the National Pork Board’s board of directors. “Consumer-driven insights are critical to our mission of increasing demand for pork. We want to spur innovation in collaboration with foodservice leaders and demonstrate that having more pork in more forms on more menus can increase consumer satisfaction and help drive operator profitability.”

By knowing and understanding these behavior drivers, foodservice operators have an opportunity to develop new menu items and shift consumer experiences to give diners experiences that meet these primary needs.

“Pork is the number one consumed protein globally, and yet fresh pork is the featured protein in less than 7% of entrée options when dining out in the U.S. That seems contradictory,” says Jarrod Sutton, vice president of domestic marketing for the National Pork Board. “With the growing popularity of Asian and Latin cuisines, where pork is a staple and a centerpiece, foodservice operators at every point on the spectrum have the opportunity to provide their customers with more flavorful and authentic options.”

Some of the key consumer insights from the report include:

  • There are three primary drivers for consumer decisions. When considering where and what to eat when dining out, there are three primary drivers for consumers: taste, health and convenience.
  • They treat themselves. Consumers seek out menu options they don’t usually make at home. One in four consumers (27%) consistently look for something new to eat, and they see dining out as an opportunity to treat themselves and indulge a little bit. As the Pork Board’s research revealed in January, consumers don’t keep pork on hand as often as other proteins. With it not being eaten at home as often, it can easily become that treat/indulgence they are looking for.
  • Healthy options are still important. While health isn’t the main reason people dine away from home, it’s still important to consumers that menus have healthy options. Restaurants can expand the menu to include healthy pork options – like the pork tenderloin or the pork sirloin chop – in the same set as other healthy proteins, such as chicken and seafood. When health is the primary driver for a consumer’s dining out decision, roughly six in 10 diners want a food that is “reasonably healthy,” and roughly four in 10 want a food that fits their diet.
  • Expand their horizons. When asked what pork dishes people crave, 51% said they crave Mexican and Latin pork dishes and 45% said they crave Asian pork dishes.
  • Make it easy; make it fast. Convenience was the primary need for consumers in 38% of away-from-home dining occasions. Consumers have high expectations for convenience when out to eat, and technology and the proliferation of on-the-go dining options have helped meet that need.
Source: National Pork Board, which is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.