News from the National Pork Board

Swine Health Advisory Committees continue development

The Pork Checkoff, in collaboration with USDA's Veterinary Services (VS), has taken the initial steps in organizing emerging swine disease networks. The goal of this Checkoff-VS endeavor is to expand these groups into Swine Health Advisory Committees (SHACs), providing individual states with the means to rapidly detect, assess, and address emerging disease issues at a local level.


The presence and expression of disease agents in people and animals are in a constant state of flux. New disease agents surface unexpectedly, and known pathogens may affect naive populations, or their ability to cause disease may change. The emergence of new diseases in a livestock population may be costly for producers and devastating for animal agriculture as a whole. Recent examples are worldwide outbreaks of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome (PMWS).

Emerging animal diseases can be classified into three types: the intentional or accidental introduction of an exotic pathogen into a susceptible population, the re-emergence of a known pathogen, and the emergence of a novel pathogen. The emergence of a new pathogen may be the most harrowing disease epidemic, as appropriate management tools are not available. An epidemic is defined as an increase in the number of cases of a disease over the expected number of cases. Without surveillance data to describe expected levels, recognition of an epidemic is difficult. An epidemic does not always entail an overall rise in the number of cases, but may simply reflect a change in the population affected.

Examples of recently emerged swine diseases include the following:

  • PRRS
  • PMWS
  • Porcine dermatitis and nephropathy syndrome
  • Salmonella serotype DT104
  • H3N2 swine influenza virus
  • Erysipelas
  • Nipah virus
  • Escherichia coli F18

The coordination of efforts to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from the introduction of foreign animal diseases is critical. However, these efforts do not address the other two emerging disease situations, ie, re-emergence of a known pathogen or emergence of a novel pathogen. Activities to detect, assess, and respond to epidemics of domestic swine diseases or emergence of novel agents affecting swine will be quite different from animal health emergency management activities.

What is needed?

"The key to recognizing new or emerging infectious diseases is surveillance. Surveillance and rapid response to identified disease threats are at the core of preventive medicine."1 To identify epidemics of known diseases, a comprehensive surveillance plan must be developed to provide objective measures of trends. To detect disease agents never seen before, local networks must be formed between those most likely to see new diseases (producers, practitioners, and diagnosticians) and responders (animal health officials, epidemiologists, and allied industry).

What is needed to address emerging swine diseases?

  • Surveillance data to provide objective measures of trends in endemic diseases.
  • Local capabilities to respond to adverse events detected by surveillance data.
  • Recognition of new and unusual disease events.
  • Ability to connect findings with other states.
  • Collaborative assessment of emerging swine diseases, reaching broad consensus on how to address the problem.
  • Varied response options: laboratory research, investigative field studies, producer-practitioner education, communication to allied industry, and eradication.
  • Graduated response capabilities, starting at local level, then regional, then national level.

Several national surveillance initiatives are currently underway. However, the development of state-level decision-making bodies to make use of surveillance data to detect and respond to emerging swine diseases, and the formal networks for detecting the emergence of novel pathogens at either the local or national level, must be priorities. The good news is that much of the infrastructure for these networks is already in place.

What is the solution?

Most pork-producing states have had Pseudorabies (PRV) Advisory Committees in place for the last decade. These groups met regularly, usually quarterly, to discuss obstacles and challenges to the PRV Eradication program in their state. They consisted of producers, private practitioners, state and federal veterinarians, laboratory diagnosticians, and others involved with pork production or swine research. While generally not endowed with any legal authority, this broad group of swine experts has had a tremendous impact on the advancement of PRV eradication at the local level.

The goal: Transform state-level PRV Advisory Committees into Swine Health Advisory Committees (SHACs) with broader scope, and develop SHACs from the ground up in swine-producing states without PRV Advisory Committees. A SHAC should have the following purposes:

  • Be a multi-disciplinary coalition committed to meeting regularly;
  • Have grass-roots leadership, driven by producers, private practitioners, or both;
  • Provide an opportunity to discuss obstacles to maintaining and improving animal health in an area;
  • Be a forum for each member to relay and discuss current issues in their respective areas;
  • Provide regular and routine interaction with an epidemiologist trained in preventive medicine practice and surveillance methodologies;
  • Improve the capacity of state agriculture departments to effectively use surveillance data to detect and assess emerging swine diseases;
  • Improve the capacity of states to effectively respond to local swine disease issues, develop additional surveillance systems, conduct field investigations, and provide an early warning system for producers and practitioners; and
  • Create a national framework for addressing emerging swine diseases by networking with SHACs in other states.

What are the benefits?

Through the development of SHACs, producers' losses due to real or perceived emerging diseases will be minimized by providing an early warning system and determining the appropriate responses. In addition, SHACs will direct coordination of research activities, control strategies, and education efforts. Ultimately, the SHAC network will contribute to enhancing pork safety, improving pork's image, augmenting access to export markets, protecting the competitive position of US pork in the world market, and providing a surveillance standard for our trading partners.

Contact Mark Engle for more information at

Reference - refereed

1. Lederberg J, Shope RE, Oaks SC, eds. Emerging infections: microbial threats to health in the United States. Washington, DC: National Accademy Press; 1992.

Swine Welfare Assurance Program soon to reach producers

The Pork Checkoff has collaborated with universities across the country to establish a group of Certified Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP) Educators that will soon be ready for on-farm SWAP Assessments. By early August, the SWAP program will be initiated and producers will be able to assess animal welfare in their operations. Producers may contact local Certified SWAP Educators or the National Pork Board if they are interested in having a SWAP Assessment. Contact Paul Sundberg at 515-223-2600 or go to for more information.

Distance learning making strides for education

Through coordination with the National Swine Research and Information Center, the Pork Checkoff is coordinating an effort to give the pork industry practical and user-friendly information to benefit them on the farm. With today's technology improvements, studies show that e-learning is a fast and effective method to deliver the latest information to producers.

The Pork Checkoff currently has core curricula on the following topics, targeted for availability at the end of 2003:

  • Farrowing management
  • Breeding and gestation herd management
  • SEW nursery management
  • Grower-finisher management
  • Business planning
  • Human resources
  • Risk management
  • Pork production and management

The new distance learning initiative will incorporate these, as well as the following:

  • Animal well-being and care
  • Documenting environmental quality
  • Boar stud management
  • Housing and ventilation
  • Records and data and business analysis
  • Pork quality and processing
  • Disease problem solving
  • The Swine Welfare Assurance Program
  • Animal handling
  • Husbandry and stockmanship
  • Euthanasia
  • The Pork Quality Assurance Program