News from the National Pork Board

National PRRS Initiative

The Pork Checkoff is spearheading a national effort, launched early last summer, targeting the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus. This initiative will involve collaboration from producers, veterinarians, universities, researchers, government agencies, and businesses. Although significant efforts in research have taken place in recent years across the industry, more information is needed to help producers manage the PRRS virus in their herds. The initiative is both long-term and short-term in nature, to progressively address the PRRS virus in the US swine herd.

National PRRS Initiative objectives

  • Quantifying the cost of PRRS to the US pork industry
    A producer who has experienced an outbreak of PRRS will attest to its economic significance to a swine operation. A thorough and professional assessment of the cost of the disease to the entire US pork industry will provide justification for the financial commitment necessary to complete the objectives outlined in this National PRRS Initiative.
  • Publishing and distributing of 2003 PRRS Compendiums
    The Pork Checkoff published the first comprehensive review of the scientific literature on PRRS virus in 1998. Publication of two updated volumes of the Compendium is complete: the Second Edition, that is primarily for use by PRRS researchers and veterinarians; and the Producer Edition, an abridged version of the Second Edition that provides a practical format for use by producers.
  • Cooperative vaccine development
    Only limited vaccine choices are available today. New and novel candidate vaccines may be helpful in control programs.
  • Understanding the persistently infected pig
    The PRRS virus is notable for its ability to cause long-term, persistent infections that complicate control and elimination programs. Understanding the mechanisms of virus persistence and developing testing strategies for identifying persistently infected swine are critical to this initiative.
  • Immune therapy
    Antiviral compounds and immune therapy are useful treatments for numerous diseases. Their application to PRRS has not yet been fully investigated, but may prove to be helpful in management of the disease.
  • Typing systems for PRRS virus
    The PRRS virus has a remarkable ability to mutate into new strains. Devising a system for categorizing these newly evolved strains into similar "families" will facilitate vaccine development and regional PRRS elimination programs.
  • Genomic sequencing of the PRRS virus and creation of a national PRRS database
    An enormous amount of diagnostic information about PRRS outbreaks and characteristics of the specific virus strains already exists. Unfortunately, the data has not been collected and stored in a manner that permits researchers to learn all they need to know about the outbreaks. Development of a national database will allow strains to be catalogued and ensure that appropriate collection of data from new outbreaks may be more effectively analyzed.
  • National epidemiologic investigations and risk factor analysis
    Even after nearly 15 years, all of the factors that put a herd at risk for PRRS have not been defined. Large-scale national epidemiologic analysis will provide the fundamental background information for design of successful on-farm and regional PRRS elimination programs.
  • Mechanisms of inter-farm viral transmission
    There is strong anecdotal evidence that PRRS virus can move between farms. The mechanisms and relative importance of inter-farm transmission still need to be understood.
  • Regional PRRS-elimination demonstration projects
    Some strategies have been developed for eliminating PRRS virus from well-managed and geographically isolated farms. However, eliminating the virus from a larger geographical region will be necessary to protect negative herds from becoming re-infected. Regional PRRS elimination projects will develop the information for predictably successful and sustainable control programs.
  • Engagement with the work of international PRRS researchers
    Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome is a worldwide disease of swine. Familiarity with research in progress around the globe will speed development of management solutions in the United States.
  • Collaboration with researchers of related (non-swine) viruses
    Viruses that are related to the PRRS virus exist in other animal species. A familiarity with these diseases and the individuals who research them is needed in order to further our understanding of PRRS virus.
  • Development of a real-time PRRS information-education system
    Application of information learned through this initiative is fundamental to the mission of the Pork Checkoff. A real-time system for disseminating updates and information to producers and veterinarians will be developed to release information as it becomes available.

The PRRS Initiative collaborates for research funding

The Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service recently requested applications for the National Research Initiative (NRI) Integrated Program for fiscal year 2003 to support competitively awarded research, extension, and education grants addressing key issues of national and regional importance to agriculture,forestry, and related topics. Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus was specifically listed as a priority for funding.

In the interest of producing the best possible research proposal, the National Pork Board, the NC-229 committee (researchers from a group of 11 land-grant universities with expertise in PRRS virus), and allied industries met in Des Moines in June 2003 to develop a strategy to compete for the 4 million dollars ($US) that have been made available. The group worked throughout the day to develop a work plan that will facilitate the collaborative research of numerous researchers, universities, allied industry partners, the US Department of Agriculture, and the National Pork Board. The proposal that will result from this collaboration will include basic and applied research projects, national epidemiological projects, and outreach and extension efforts that will ultimately result in improved tools for the management of PRRS virus infection and eradication of the virus from farms.

While this NRI proposal is separate from the Pork Checkoff's National PRRS Initiative that was revealed at the World Pork Expo, the scope of the two efforts overlap in many areas and should be complementary in the research they stimulate. The NRI proposal was submitted on July 31, 2003, and funded projects are expected to be announced in the fall of 2003.

Swine Welfare Assurance Program launched to producers

The Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP) program is now available to producers interested in having welfare assessments of their farms. The program, which reached farms in August, provides pork producers with the tools to objectively assess welfare on the farm. The Pork Checkoff is encouraging producers to have the voluntary assessment, proactively addressing welfare in 21st century pork production.

Earlier this year, 54 persons were trained on SWAP, as part of Instructor Training Teams (ITTs). These teams in turn have been hosting Certified SWAP Educator meetings, training ITTs to perform the on-farm assessments. Individuals are trained in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The ITTs also cover adjacent states, if an ITT is not available in that state. If you are interested in becoming a Certified SWAP Educator, please contact the state swine extension personnel for your state. These contacts may also be found through the National Pork Board at 1-800-456-PORK or