Flood Warning

Hog Industry Prepares Plans for Animal Health Emergencies

IOWA -- Farmers are constantly preparing for animal diseases, an infected herd can mean losing an entire business or permanently losing markets abroad. And with new and old threats facing Iowa's hog industry, scientists and hog producers are working to make sure business is safe.

The 2018 farm bill approved mandatory funding for an animal disease vaccine bank focusing on Foot and Mouth disease (FMD). It also has mandatory funds for the national animal health laboratory network, which are state diagnostic labs, as well as money for state grants for prevention and preparedness. Totaling a $150 million.

Liz Wagstrom the chief veterinarian with the National Pork Producers Council says the vaccine bank is important, "We'd like to have enough that we could control a significant outbreak quickly knowing that you have the vaccine on hand and then you need surge capacity to make more as an outbreak would continue."

The vaccine bank right now could only handle a small outbreak of FMD, and it's shared between Canada and Mexico.

Hog producers don't preemptively vaccinate their hogs because of trade restrictions. For one, hogs can be classified as "FMD free", which the U.S. is right now, or "free with vaccinations", which some countries may deny trade access to. Only a third of the world is FMD free, about 68 countries.

Wagstrom says another problem, is there are a lot of different types of disease, "There are over 20 strains of Foot and Mouth disease. They don't cross react, or cross protect. So if you vaccinate for one, you're not protected against another. So we really need to wait until we have an outbreak, which of course we hope we never do, to see which strain we need to start vaccinating against."

FMD is an older threat, livestock producers have been maintaining biosecurity against it for years. A new threat for hog producers is African Swine Fever (ASF).

At the Iowa Pork Congress, producers gathered for a seminar to protect against the disease, which has caused more than 950,000 pigs to be culled across China.

The disease has a high mortality rate, it spreads quickly, it is a trade limiting disease, and there is no vaccine. The only protection is prevention.

Pam Zaabel a veterinary specialist with Iowa State University's Center for Food Security and Public Health says, "Biosecurity is not necessarily easy, unfortunately. It's something that has to be followed that if you have good biosecurity you don't even know it's in place because you don't have the disease situation. But the minute there's a breakdown in the biosecurity is when you have to address the situation. So biosecurity is something that needs to be done on a daily basis."

Zaabel is a part of a collaboration of government and the hog industry to prevent the disease from entering, but also preparing in the form of the National African Swine Fever Disease Response Strategy. A playbook of what happens if ASF enters the U.S.

Should those first herds be infected, there will be huge resources put forward to stopping it at those herds through culling and quarantine.

Zaabel works on the Secure Pork Supply plan, to figure out what to do with the surrounding herds affected by the disease but not infected, "So it includes things like biosecurity and what they can do on their farms to help protect their animals, traceability, and also, for surveillance or disease monitoring to show that they are truly not infected or have no evidence of the infection."

There are also concerns on what to do with the culled hogs. If a 6,000 hog herd was infected with the disease, that would be more than three million pounds of carcass that would have to be disposed of. Zaabel says producers should start planning for what their disposal plan might be in a way that doesn't bring more disease.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture is taking steps to help Iowans be prepared. There will be five free, interactive workshops for producers to educate on response plans and prevention methods.

FMD and ASF are diseases for hogs and do not affect humans.

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