Federal Government Announces 76 Million Dollar Package to Combat Disease in the Hog Sector

CANADA - The Canadian Pork Industry is optimistic a program announced last month (August 20) will help swine producers combat the devastating effects of emerging diseases.
calendar icon 8 September 2007
clock icon 7 minute read

The four-tier $76 million package was developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in consultation with an industry task team and is aimed at combating disease in Canada’s hog industry, in particular Porcine Circovirus Associated Disease (PCVAD).

Package Developed in Response to PCVAD

“It arose out of the Porcine Circovirus Associated Diseases that have been prevalent in the industry now for about two or three years and have been causing a lot of problems, a lot of economic loss, for farmers, Particularly in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec but in other provinces as well,” says Bill Schissel the director of the Disaster Assessment and Analysis Division of AAFC.

“Porcine Circoviral Disease is one of the most significant diseases to hit the swine industry in a number of years,” observes Dr. John Harding, an associate professor with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon. “It’s caused by a very small virus called Porcine Circovirus type 2 (PCV-2) but we also know that other factors are necessary to induce disease, particularly the wasting that we see on the farms. Porcine Circovirus is the necessary but not the sole cause of Porcine Circoviral Disease.”

PCVAD Displays Wide Ranging Symptoms

Dr. Harding explains, as the old name for the disease, Post Weaning Multisystemic Wasting Syndrome (PMWS), implies it’s multisystemic.

“Essentially every organ in the body can potentially become infected and very diseased or tissue damaged. Generally what happens in an individual pig is we see wasting primarily in a great majority of animals. We may also see respiratory signs such as coughing or difficulty in breathing, we may see diarrhea, we may see in some situations discoloration of the skin. Sometimes that can be a skin scab, sometimes it can be the pig turning yellow and it just depends on the individual pig which tissues and organ systems are affected to the greatest degree.”

Dr. Harding recalls the disease was initially found in western Canada in the mid 1990s. It was very quiet in Canada until late 2004 and early 2005 when there was an explosive outbreak of the disease in eastern Canada, particularly in Quebec and Ontario. It then slowly spread west throughout 2005 and 2006.

Dr. Harding emphasizes, “It has worldwide distribution so every swine producing country in the world has or is presently experiencing outbreaks of Circoviral Disease.”

Eastern Canada Hit Hard Beginning in 2004

Canadian Pork Council (CPC) president and Industry Task Team co-chair Clare Schlegel notes the disease really started in earnest in parts of Quebec and Ontario in the fall of 2004 and so, by the summer of 2006, a number of producers had been battling this problem for two years.

AAFC’s Schissel adds, “There’s certain regions in the country and certain larger hog producers that have suffered up to between 50 and 60 percent of loss in extreme cases. So it’s getting to be a fairly significant cost in individual cases and to the industry as a whole.”

“A perfect storm reducing the Canadian industry’s competitiveness,” is how Schlegel compares the severe onset of a new viral disease causing high mortality combined with other factors, including a strengthening Canadian dollar and difficulties faced by the packing industry.

Program Details Still Being Finalized

AAFC is working with the industry task team to finalize details of the $76 million package. Schissel explains its intent is to help producers identify whether they have the disease and support them with vaccinating their herds so an inoculation strategy is part of it.

The longer term components include: Funding for research to find out how the disease is transmitted and the Canadian pig herd became infected; Developing biosecurity best practices with the intent of implementing national standards to combat diseases, both Circovirus and other emerging diseases; and Implementing a long term surveillance strategy to help identify emerging diseases.

“We’re hoping to be able to roll out the inoculation strategy over the next four to five months. And the longer term pieces, the research, the biosecurity best practices and the longer term surveillance strategy we hope to be able to put that in place over a four year time frame,” says Schissel.

Schlegel expects details of the inoculation strategy are to be made available to individual producers sometime later in September. “One of the good news stories is that the vaccine is working and as it becomes more available it’s a tool that producers can use. Unfortunately the vaccine is expensive. It’s between a dollar and two dollars a pig in a time when we’re already having much difficulty competing on a cost base with our American counterparts.”

New Vaccines Prove Highly Effective

“There’s estimates that somewhere between 30 and 60 percent of the pigs farrowed in Canada are inoculated at this point. We do believe there is adequate vaccine available.” Schlegel notes, “There’s about 30 million pigs farrowed in any given year and if 50 percent of those would vaccinate their animals that would be potentially 15 million doses.”

He admits, the package won’t eliminate our competitive disadvantage with the Americans but it will go a long way to solving some of the animal health issues, in particular Circovirus.

Further Research Needed

Several questions about PCVAD remain, chief among them what triggers clinical disease.

“That is the million dollar question that remains unanswered at this point in time,” says Dr. Harding. We know some other factors such as co-infection or other diseases such as PRRS and mycoplasma, certainly are possible triggers. We also know that immune stimulation, vaccinating with some vaccines coinciding with infection sometimes can induce clinical disease. But, I think most of us feel that we’re missing part of the picture and there’s something else, potentially another virus, that’s involved and is probably the most significant trigger.

“That relates very well to the announcement of the federal government recently,” Dr. Harding suggests.

“Firstly I think we have to find out what the triggering factors truly are. If there are other viruses then we need to be out looking for them and trying to figure out what induces clinical disease and also what’s causing the spread from farm to farm.”

“Secondly I think the other issue is biosecurity. How do we prevent this or future diseases from traveling throughout our industry causing such devastating effects?”

“More importantly part of this announcement pertains to emerging diseases and how to monitor emerging diseases in the future. Many of us feel that Circovirus is not the last emerging disease, that there will be another one down the road, and we certainly need some help and some organization in controlling or at least monitoring the spread of new diseases that will affect the industry in the future.”

Package Expected to Protect Canada’s International Reputation

Schlegel is convinced the $76 million package will help to protect Canada’s international reputation in the area of animal health.

“Clearly it’ll help to raise the health of our herd. Our reputation world wide is based on sound animal health in this country. We’re one of the highest animal health countries in the entire world. There’s only a few other countries that can boast about that like Canada can. We have wide open spaces in general. Our pig herds are generally quite dispersed, spread apart from each other and so we believe the entire package will help to sustain and maintain that.”

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