From the Editor
“Producer nets $300 but costs the country 10.6 billion dollars”
A producer calls you because the mortality in the last fill of the finisher barn is higher than expected. He describes some neurological signs that sound like Streptococcus suis (Strep suis). The producer puts penicillin in the water. Three days later, mortality has risen dramatically and you visit the herd. What you see is NOT Strep suis. But what is it? Affected pigs have purple discolouration of the ears and abdomens. A few pigs are weak and stumble when they walk. Many pigs are thin and depressed. No pigs are convulsing. Is it a porcine circovirus associated disease or salmonellosis, or is it a foreign animal disease? You call the government veterinarians and begin the process of making a diagnosis.
A scenario such as this was presented at a recent swine-industry foreign animal disease workshop in Ontario. The government regulators told us that the farm would not be under an enforced depopulation or movement control until the diagnosis was made. If pig movement is stopped, it will be entirely voluntary. At the start of the workshop, each participant was given an assigned table. Mine was the table considering welfare issues. The person representing the humane societies began the discussion by exclaiming “That will never happen! That producer will sell all his pigs!” Is that your gut reaction? Will one producer forgo a profit to save the industry?
The 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom, when 6.5 million animals were slaughtered, cost the country the equivalent of 10.6 billion dollars.1 The disease spread widely across the country through animal movement before a diagnosis was made. In 1997, hog cholera infected pigs in the Netherlands.2 When word spread of the impending stop-movement order, pig farmers initiated the “night of lights.” This was when pigs were moved and sold through the night so that farmers could collect the profit they felt they deserved. This movement is blamed for the fact that the outbreak lasted more than a year. At least 429 farms were infected and more than 10 million hogs were destroyed. The first message of the workshop was that pigs cannot be moved when there is a suspicion of a foreign animal disease. What if the disease is a PCVAD? What if your recommendation costs the producer $300 or $3000? There is a risk of this happening, but the risk to the industry is much bigger.
The welfare implications of a foreign animal disease are immense. It is devastating to the people involved as well as to the animals. If the pigs test positive for a foreign animal disease, they will be humanely slaughtered and the producer will be compensated for the pigs. On other farms, where the pigs do not test positive, but where pigs cannot be moved off the farm, the situation is different. These farmers will not be compensated for their pigs. However, if you cannot move the pigs off the farm, they eventually have to be humanely slaughtered. You can understand the driving force behind the night of lights. There will be no space for the pigs as they grow and no space for the new pigs being born. Most farms will likely experience overcrowded pigs. There will be no market for pigs and therefore no income for the farmer and no money to pay for food. Many pigs will likely experience poor welfare before humane slaughter occurs.
In the scenario presented at the workshop, it took 17 days for the positive hog cholera diagnosis to be made. At that point, either the disease had been contained or it had spread widely across the country. If it is contained, the disease will likely devastate the industry for a couple of years. If it is widespread, the industry will never recover.
The swine-industry foreign animal disease workshop pointed out obvious flaws in our current system. If we are to hope to contain a foreign animal disease, we must build a solid communication system. We need premise and movement identification and a telephone hotline to alert the whole industry when there is a potential problem. Who would you call? Who would call you? Veterinarians are logically key people in the control and management of a foreign animal disease.
However, for me, the loudest message was that voluntary stop-movement recommendations must be followed. We as veterinarians all have to do our part to convince farmers that they have to forgo the $300 profit to save their country the 10.6 billion dollar hit. How will you spread the message? Will you make it part of your next routine herd health visit? Can you convince your producers to forgo the $300?
1. On This Day. January 14, 2006. 2002: UK declared free of foot-and-mouth. Available at: http:news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/january/14/newsid_4121000/4121785.stm. Accessed 28 Mar 2007.
2. National Hog Farmer. 2007. Lessons from the Netherlands. Available at: http:nationalhogfarmer.com/mag/farming_lessons_netherlands/. Accessed 28 Mar 2007.
-- Cate Dewey