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Do live pigs belong at global trade shows?

Last week, the news broke that the annual US trade show World Pork Expo will be cancelled due do the emergence of African Swine Fever in Asia. A good moment to re-think the set-up of the expo anyway, writes Pig Progress editor Vincent ter Beek. Are live hogs and international agribusiness events a good combination anyway?

In November 2006 I was still as green as grass, when I attended my very 1st edition of the world’s largest animal husbandry show EuroTier in Hanover, Germany. I remember being overwhelmed with all the things being new, huge and impressive. And I remember finding it funny that there were not a lot of pigs at the show. Having come in from outside the agribusiness I just thought a proper agricultural show shouldn’t only be talking about animals – but also show them.

Gilts on show at EuroTier 2016. It would be the last time there were live pigs at the German event. Photo: Vincent ter Beek
Gilts on show at EuroTier 2016. It would be the last time there were live pigs at the German event. Photo: Vincent ter Beek

The ones that made it to the show, weren’t difficult to find. I just had to follow my nose. Several gilts were shown in combination with a display on the use of Electronic Sow Feeding equipment on-farm. I was so pleased to see animals that they even made it to the front cover of Pig Progress early 2007 as you can see.

The cover of the 1st edition of Pig Progress in 2007. Photo: Saowanee ter Beek
The cover of the 1st edition of Pig Progress in 2007. Photo: Saowanee ter Beek

The last time there were live pigs at EuroTier

If I remember correctly, it was the last time I ever saw live pigs at EuroTier, or any other international trade show for that matter. I never saw pigs at editions of VIV, not at the versions in Europe, China, Russia nor Asia. I didn’t see them at SPACE in France, I haven’t seen any at CAHE in China or at the PorkExpo in Brazil.

In fact, perhaps it’s better that way. Pigs and international trade shows don’t go well together. After all, who knows where all the professional travellers have been and what kind of viruses they may bring? Did they all properly shower and change clothes before entering the showgrounds? And what to do with the pigs that were brought to the showgrounds? Are they still to be used or will they sadly need to be sacrificed for reasons of biosecurity?

World Pork Expo in Iowa

The only exception to this all has always been the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, IA, United States. I have to admit – the animals are not being shown inside the agribusiness halls of the global trade show. They are usually to be admired at the World Pork Expo live hog show, in the adjacent ‘Swine Barn’. It’s a few 100 yards’ walk from the main show building, but it forms a part of the entire event.

Participants are proudly showing their pigs at the World Pork Expo live hog show in 2015.
Participants are proudly showing their pigs at the World Pork Expo live hog show in 2015.

There, often younger pig owners proudly can show their animals and win prices in various categories. It’s always great fun to escape the agribusiness bubble for a while to wade through the wood chips and see pigs being brushed and made ready for their appearance in the ring.

No World Pork Expo in 2019

Last week, the US National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) announced that this year’s edition of World Pork Expo (WPX) will be cancelled, in relation to the ongoing spread of African Swine Fever (ASF) in Asia.

Check out the African Swine Fever sections - interactive maps following the spread of the virus plus articles and news.

In a press release, NPPC president David Herring said, “While an evaluation by veterinarians and other 3rd-party experts concluded negligible risk associated with holding the event, we have decided to exercise extreme caution. The health of the US swine herd is paramount; the livelihoods of our producers depend on it. Prevention is our only defence against ASF and NPPC will continue to do all it can to prevent its spread to the United States.”

Cancellation not a complete surprise

For some reason, the cancellation did not come as a complete surprise to me. Even though the virus is further away in the Mid-West than in Europe, the North American pig industry has been fanatically ‘on top’ of everything ASF from the moment the virus broke out in China. No stakeholder is wasting any opportunity to remind the agribusiness of the importance of good biosecurity to keep ASF at bay. Clearly lessons learnt in the crisis around PEDv as from 2013 haven’t been forgotten.

There also were critical comments with regard to the decision, especially because the live pig show part will continue to be held. For instance, Dr Chris Rademacher, swine extension veterinarian at Iowa State University, responded: “This makes NO sense!!”

Is coinciding with WPX a good idea?

I tend to agree with him. I do completely acknowledge the importance of getting younger swine producers enthusiastic about the trade – and I understand that there are many more of these live hog shows around the country. The question is whether it is wise to continue to have them coincide with an event that is intended to attract an international audience – and is growing in importance every year?

It is not to be expected that ASF is going to go away from Asia any time soon. In 2020 and the years to follow, most likely the virus will continue to be very present in the Asian continent. How much we will hear about it, depends on the transparency of the respective authorities in Asia. Will that mean that likely future editions of WPX will also be cancelled? A rhetoric question, as the show cannot be cancelled until eternity.

To reduce the chances of potential transmission of whichever pathogen, it might be good to envisage future editions of World Pork Expo that acknowledge that live pig shows and gatherings of the international swine business are increasingly 2 separate worlds. Both disciplines require passion and pleasure, but bringing important swine people together from all over the world is a different ballgame than proudly showing hogs, hence requiring a different approach.

Maybe a different time and place. How about that for 2020?