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Pork Checkoff science and technology committees meet to review research proposals

The Pork Checkoff’s science and technology committees met in Kansas City, Missouri, in February to review proposals received from the first general request for proposals to be funded in 2008. One hundred and thirty producers, academics, and industry allies volunteering on the Pork Checkoff’s animal science, animal welfare, environment, pork safety, and swine health committees reviewed proposals dealing with those topics plus public health, antimicrobial use and resistance, genomics, nutritional efficiency, sow lifetime productivity, and worker safety. Notice of the general call was posted last year with a deadline of November 2007. Pending reviews, project funding will commence in May 2008.

Members of the animal science committee reviewed 41 research proposals in the general categories of sow productive lifetime, nutritional efficiency, and genomics. Members of the animal welfare committee reviewed 16 research proposals in the general categories of sow housing, transportation, castration, euthanasia, and general animal husbandry and its effects on animal well-being. The environment committee reviewed 13 research proposals, including projects varying from treatment of exhaust air with ultraviolet light to production of oil from swine manure and the fate of nutrients and animal-health products in soil after application. Members of the pork safety committee reviewed 29 research proposals. The main categories of research included preharvest pork safety, post harvest pork safety, and antimicrobial use and resistance. The committee also reviewed projects in the worker-safety and public-health categories. Two projects were reviewed in conjunction with the swine health committee. The swine health committee reviewed 21 research proposals focused on Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae, Escherichia coli, swine influenza, Haemophilus parasuis, Actinobacillus suis, Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae, vaccine technology, alternative methods of promoting pig health, and disease etiology.

Checkoff, AASV, and Tetracore sponsor team to investigate blue ear disease in China

A team of scientists from academia and industry recently traveled to China to gain better understanding about the cause, distribution, and severity of the blue ear or “high fever” disease outbreak that has spread through that country in the past year. Ying Fang (South Dakota State University), Johnny Callahan (Tetracore, Inc), Butch Baker (Iowa State University), Eric Neumann (Massey University, New Zealand), and Dick Hesse (Kansas State University; KSU) were sponsored by the National Pork Board, American Association of Swine Veterinarians, and Tetracore, Inc. During their visit, they participated in an investigative visit to the Veterinary Research Institute in Shanghai; the China Agricultural University in Beijing; the Veterinary Medicine Institute, Swine Diseases Division, in the Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Sciences; and the Institute of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine, Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Fuzhou.

The investigative team interacted closely with prominent Chinese scientists and had the opportunity to visit farms affected by the disease and collect samples to test for various viral agents at the different regional laboratories. Samples previously collected by the regional laboratories, freshly collected samples, or both were tested by real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays for the presence of African swine fever (ASF) virus and classical swine fever-hog cholera (CSF) virus; for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) using Tetracore assays; and for porcine circovirus (PCV) type 2a or 2b using the KSU differential PCV2 assay. Real-time PCR results indicated that CSF virus and PRRSV alone or in combination with PCV2b were closely associated with clinical cases of blue ear disease (high fever disease). The most common association of agents identified in diseased pigs was PRRSV and PCV2b, followed by CSF virus and PCV2b. No ASF virus or PCV2a was found in any of the samples tested.

The visit was a success on many fronts. The investigators gained a better understanding of the swine diseases currently circulating in China and the associated biosecurity issues the Chinese industry faces. In this global industry, these issues also could put the US pork industry at risk. Additionally, strong collaborative relationships between Chinese and US scientists have been established, opening the path to future research, training, and exchange opportunities that will need to be seized by both countries to keep blue ear and other diseases at bay.

Environmental research database available online

From water quality to swine nutrient management, it’s easier than ever to view environment-related research online. A new database for use by producers, researchers, and others interested in pork production-related environmental research contains research papers and articles published from 1960. The tool was developed by Iowa State University and funded by the Pork Checkoff and is available at http://www.pork.org/PorkScience/Environment/default.aspx. The tool will be updated as new research becomes available.

The database has search and advanced search options that allow users to search by topic category (eg, surface water quality, groundwater quality, water use and conservation, air emissions and odor, land quality or crop impact, or a combination of these), keyword, investigator, research institution, and funding source. The full project title, research institution, funding source, approximate project cost, suggested citation, contact information for the principal investigator, a summary of the paper, and an author’s abstract are presented for articles selected for review.

National Pork Board research process undergoes review

With the help of a facilitator, the National Pork Board’s science and technology department asked groups familiar with research and grant approval processes to review its own process. Participants in this process were representatives from the US Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service, the US Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, the US Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health, university contracts and grants offices, university vice provosts for research, and researchers who have submitted proposals.

After being walked through the processes of communication of priorities for research and request for proposals, submission of proposals, scientific review of proposals, project selection, drafting and signing of contracts, payment, researcher accountability, and delivery of results to the appropriate audiences, participants evaluated each process for its transparency, timeliness of completion, credibility, and clarity.

In the area of the transparency of project selection, 72% of the review panelists scored the existing process as acceptable or better. The strengths of the existing structure were said to encourage incremental improvement and panelists found it positive that the process incorporates a wide variety of input, including significant input from producers, the ultimate beneficiaries of the effort. However, among the most important suggestions was providing orientation and education to committees that explore different research models and options, including partnerships. Another suggestion was to encourage longer-range issue identification and strategic planning by committees. In terms of the timeliness of completion, 100% of the reviewers qualified the existing process as acceptable or better. Furthermore, they commented that the current process is recognized as efficient. Fifty-five percent of the people in the panel agreed that the process of project selection needed improvement in its credibility. While applauding the opportunity to have this discussion, they suggested that all disclosure and conflict guidelines for scientists apply to committee members (producers and others) as well. Reviewers also suggested that the selection and membership of the committees be available for public review (for example, posted on the Web site).

The clarity and ease of completion of projects (project selection) also was scored. Reviewers were asked to assess whether committee members’ comments about the relevance to the industry were sufficient when they were asked to revise a proposal or when a committee agreed not to fund a project. Currently, researchers receive an extensive summary from scientific reviewers along with a brief industry relevance review. While the methodology has a successful track record, the reviewers encouraged the development of a template for feedback to ensure that all information would be included and to facilitate work for producers and the program manager. The use of separate forms for scientific reviews and industry relevance reviews also was suggested, as was the inclusion of a committee resolution to the scientific reviews.

While the process is far from being perfect, the panel agreed that reviewing the process was valuable and applauded the organization for convening the group to accomplish it. They concurred that in light of Pork Checkoff staff size, the current efficiency of the research review program is excellent and cautioned against compromising current staff efficiency and job satisfaction when initiating improvements.

Much more information was obtained from reviewing the processes involved in funding research by the National Pork Board, and action has already been taken on some suggestions. In 2008, for example, the call for research proposals has moved to a single date or general call. Disclosure and conflict guidelines for scientists were applied to committee members while in the research proposal review process, and committee membership is posted on the National Pork Board’s Web site. Other details, such as adding disclosure of financial interest in the results of studies, are being examined.