Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pork industry in crisis mode

But optimistic deadly virus can be contained in province

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Manitoba's pork industry is in full damage-control mode after Friday's confirmation the first case of a highly contagious and deadly pig virus has been found in Manitoba.

Dr. Glen Duizer, Manitoba's acting chief veterinary officer, told a news conference the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg confirmed the virus found earlier this week on a hog farm in southeastern Manitoba was indeed the dreaded porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv).

The PED virus appeared years ago in Europe and China but didn't surface in North America until April 2013 when one case was found in the United States.

Andrew Dickson, Manitoba Pork Council general manager, told reporters that since then, the virus has spread to about 25 per cent of U.S. hog farms and killed an estimated three to four million baby pigs.

While he and Duizer emphasized the virus poses no risk to human health or food safety, Dickson said Manitoba's pork industry could be looking at losses of between $150 million to $170 million if a full-blown outbreak were to develop.

"But that's the worse-case scenario," he said, adding the MPC and government officials remain optimistic the response measures now being taken can limit the spread of the virus and hopefully prevent it from spreading to any other farms.

He said rigid bio-security protocols are already in place at the province's borders, at its pork-processing plants and at the farm level. "So our hope is that it can be contained."

However, if those efforts fail, Dickson said the damage won't be limited to pork producers.

"It will also have a major impact, if it gets out of hand, on our provincial economy," he said.

Consumers also could be impacted because the U.S. outbreak, coupled with a shortage of beef, is already driving up pork prices on the futures market. That could lead to higher retail prices down the road.

Reporters were told while older pigs can usually recover from the virus, the mortality rate among newborns and piglets is in the 80 to 100 per cent range. Manitoba produces about eight million piglets per year, about three million of which are exported to the United States.

Duizer said Manitoba is the third province to report a confirmed case of PEDv. The first Canadian case was found last month in Ontario, and the disease has since spread to a dozen other farms in that province. Prince Edward Island also has one confirmed case.

Government and MPC officials are withholding the name of the Manitoba farmer whose herd has been affected. All they're saying is it's a weanling-to-finishing hog operation and the producer's pigs have shown less severe symptoms and mortality rates remain within the normal range for that type of hog operation.

Dickson said they'll be withholding the names of affected producers to protect their privacy and to encourage other producers to report cases if they arise.

Duizer said the province and the MPC launched a rapid-detection monitoring program on Feb. 3 that includes taking test samples in stockyards, meat processing plants and other places where volumes of pigs are being handled. So far, no sign of the virus has been detected, he said, which is encouraging.

He said the focus of the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer investigation is on restricting all animal movement on and off the affected farm, determining how his pigs became infected and identifying and testing any other farms he may recently have come in contact with.

He and Dickson emphasized the best way of preventing the spread of the disease is for producers and trucking companies to maintain the strict bio-security measures most have had in place for a number of years to prevent other diseases from entering their barns.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2014 A3

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