Wasting disease takes toll on Canada pork industry

CANADA - A chronic illness that is killing hogs in Eastern Canada is taking a heavy toll on pork producers, Canadian Pork Council president Clare Schlegel said on Tuesday.
calendar icon 30 March 2006
clock icon 3 minute read

"It is making a difference on the supply of pigs in Eastern Canada, particularly Ontario and Quebec. We're beginning to wonder about our ability to compete with our American hog-producer counterparts," Schlegel told Reuters in an interview.

Ontario and Quebec account for about half of the about 31 million hogs slaughtered in Canada each year.

Post-weaning multi-systemic wasting syndrome, better known as PMWS, has been in Canada since the 1990s. It is also present in the United States and Europe, but only became a serious problem in Quebec and Ontario during the winter of 2004-05, Schlegel said.

The syndrome kills pigs over a period of weeks, causing severe weight-loss, often combined with jaundice, kidney failure or pneumonia. It is fatal and has no cure, although vaccines are coming on to the market.

The disease has stabilized and has retreated slightly in some areas, but it has caused mortality rates of 25 to 40 percent on many hog farms, with the average significantly lower, Schlegel said.

The cause of the syndrome is not known, although it is often associated with porcine circovirus type 2. Recently, PMWS has expanded its reach.

"It is more severe and is affecting older pigs, and it looks like a different kind of disease than we have had in the past," said Dr. Bob Friendship, who researches the syndrome at the University of Guelph, in Guelph, Ontario.

The disease is threatening production at Canadian packing plants at the same time as the strength of the Canadian dollar is eroding the competitiveness of pork exports.

"One of the reasons packing plants are concerned is a result of the changing Canadian dollar relative to the U.S. currency and this disease situation exacerbates that problem," Schlegel said.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said the illness does not pose a threat to human health and is considered a production-limiting disease and is not reportable.

For more information, visit our PMWS Technical Zone

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