From the Executive Director

PRRS eradication

Tom BurkgrenDr Judah Folkman, a cancer researcher, once stated "I have come to realize the key is to choose a problem that is worth persistent effort." Swine veterinarians certainly face many problems that are indeed worth persistent efforts. However, there may not be a greater problem facing the swine industry than porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS). It has been a topic at more meetings than I can count. Once again, PRRS was the topic at this year's meeting for AASV members at the World Pork Expo. More than 100 AASV members attended this meeting. A number of issues were discussed, but the one that grabbed my attention was the concept of PRRS eradication.

Although there was no consensus reached on the feasibility of PRRS eradication, there was a definite challenge raised: AASV should take the lead in the eradication of PRRS. Dr Steve Henry put it this way: "The AASV should officially and publicly adopt the position that eradication of PRRS virus from North America is the medical goal. Building on this, the AASV should utilize its educational, informational, and training resources to constantly advance members and the industry in the understanding and implementation of the processes involved in eradication of PRRS." This was said with the passion and conviction one would expect from Dr Henry.

Perhaps it is time to consider embarking on the monumental task of eradicating PRRS. The losses arising from PRRS are significant, if not mind-boggling. Veterinarians and producers alike are frustrated by this disease. Is the level of frustration sufficient to build the commitment necessary to accomplish this task? Without commitment from all parts of the industry, this endeavor will not succeed.

It is a daunting task to even consider the aspects of PRRS eradication, but now may be the time to discuss it, to consider the needed infrastructure, and to plan for the future. Progress is being made with the elimination of the virus on individual farms. Other projects are studying eradication in small regions. Progress is being made in PRRS research, through the collaboration and cooperation of scientists, the US Department of Agriculture, and the National Pork Board. While we may not yet possess all of the technology, knowledge, or tools needed to achieve the ultimate goal of eradication, we may have what is needed to start the process.

Don't take me wrong. I do not take this lightly or with unreasoned optimism. There are huge issues to consider on the front end of an eradication process of this magnitude. Leadership will be needed from several segments of the industry. There must be a high level of buy-in from all stakeholders. There must be a clear understanding and sharing of goals. Trust and accountability need to be established between the participants. There has to be recognition that mistakes will be made, disagreements will arise, setbacks will be encountered, and yes, tempers will flare. Overarching all of this, however, is the need to do something to mitigate the effects of PRRS.

We need honest and critical debate on the issue of sustainability of an eradication effort. Scientifically, we need to establish what we know, what we don't know, and what we need to discover. There are also key issues about funding and government involvement. The scope of an effort such as this generates many more questions than answers. One place to start is to agree on what questions we need to be asking.

The meeting at the World Pork Expo is just one spark. Now we must decide if we will fan it and other sparks into a flame or let them die. Even if they die, I suspect there will be more sparks to come. Any initiative to eradicate PRRS will require the collective resolve, knowledge, and perseverance of the entire swine industry. Now ask yourself: Is PRRS a problem that is worth persistent effort?

Tom Burkgren