Background last update:Nov 27, 2009

World Pork Expo: Gripes about yet another crisis

Many pork organisations had long been emphasising that 'swine flu' and the 'swine industry' were not related. The human disease turned out to have an odd boomerang effect and affect the World Pork Expo indirectly. From increased travelling measures to safety production protocols – it was hard to ignore swine flu at this year's World Pork Expo.

By Vincent ter Beek

For many hog producers in North America, the tough times had lasted long enough, they felt. A feed crisis, followed by a financial crisis, had been depriving many a producer from his savings and had forced him to swallow red figures for quite a number of months. It was hoped, however, with the summer of 2009 ahead, and with feed prices at consistently lower levels, that pig production would finally start to see profitability again.
Optimism, however, was not exactly the key ingredient of this year's edition of World Pork Expo. Safety, security, care, but perhaps even despair may seem more like it, as halls appeared to look empty every now and then, a chunk of foreign visitors stayed away, and faces in exhibitor stands did not always reflect positivism.
Pig owners participating at the live pig show had to queue up for veterinary controls, as H1N1 once more showed that utmost care is needed to guarantee security for all animals.
The two main words, dominating this June's edition of World Pork Expo, held 3-5 June in Des Moines, IA, USA, were the words 'swine' and 'flu'. Even though the outbreak of the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus did not originate in pigs, nor did it kill a single porcine individual, still the consequences were rather disastrous. The virus' genetic make-up emulated some swine influenza components, hence the origins of the name 'swine flu', although this was later to be named 'Mexican flu' where it first surfaced.
Causing a pandemic in humans, a seemingly harmless name thus had far-reaching consequences for the pig business in neighbouring United States. The 2009 swine flu was no pig disease – it was a cold-hearted ghost, silently hovering through the stands and crowds, that had hoped to see sparks of optimism in Des Moines.
The general atmosphere may have been slightly more negative than initially hoped for, said Don Butler, president of the US National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). Speaking about the H1N1 flu outbreak, he commented, “That crisis exacerbated what was already a difficult economic situation for our producers. Just when things were looking up – we had good Easter ham sales and we were entering the grilling season – this flu was misnamed 'swine flu'.”
Butler estimated that the US pork industry was likely to see contraction 'within the next six months'. “For the industry to return to sustained profitability, the national sow herd needs to be reduced by approximately 3%, according to leading economists.”
He blamed media coverage for worsening the H1N1 crisis, saying: “The media's insistence on referring to the H1N1 flu as swine flu even after being told the virus was a hybrid and that it never had been found in pigs and after US and international public health and food agencies said it was not swine flu caused concern among some customers, who stopped buying pork, and led some of our trading partners to ban US pork imports. They did this, knowing full well that flu viruses are not transmitted through food.”
He continued saying: “Multiplying each day's per-head value decline for all purchases by each day's slaughter shows that producers saw a reduced sales value of approximately $52.9 million relative to the animals' value on April 24 for sales through May 22.”
Speaking early June, Butler estimated that the US pork industry would lose $794 million over the rest of the year – equalling to almost $320,000 for a producer with 1,500 sows and 30,000 finishers over the coming 12 months.
National Pork Board
The US National Pork Board also gave quite some attention to the H1N1 outbreak, emphasising its efforts to both inform members of the public and producers alike. Consumers had to be educated and assured that eating pork was safe, is safe, and has nothing to do with H1N1 in any way. On the other hand, this did not mean that swine producers do not have to pay attention. On the contrary – strict biosecurity and vigilance were advised, see box 'The National Pork Board advises'.
Liz Wagstrom, assistant vice president for the Pork Checkoff explained why a seemingly harmless virus to pigs still requires utmost care from pork producers: apart from being an indirect threat, H1N1 is potentially adirectdanger to the pig industry as well, she told. “First of all, the novel disease is different to ordinary influenza in humans, as there have been ongoing cases in summer in the northern hemisphere, which is very unusual. In addition, it seems to be younger people from ten upwards and in their prime who are the victims.”
She continued to say, “The new virus is also different to usual swine influenza – as the usual swine influenza goes from swine to swine, and can occasionally jump to humans. Apart from one case in Canada, H1N1 has not been found in pigs. We need to keep it out of the pigs to make sure they don't become a reservoir.” Only weeks later, H1N1 was also found on pig farms in e.g. Argentina and Australia.
The show itself presented a mixture of novelties, ideas and further strategies to improve efficacy of pig production. Advanced Livestock Transport (ALT), together with Spanish truck manufacturer Castañé, brought the 'next generation of transport' to the United States, via a three storage aluminium truck, having advantages for both transporters and for animals.
Animals benefit through easy access by a lift to all three decks, additional floor space, a quick automatic open-and-close ventilation system and also a nozzle system that can keep them cool during transport. Uploading pigs takes 40 minutes, unloading 10-20 minutes.
In addition, US swine equipment company GroMaster added a web-based feed allocation system for the weaning-to-finish period to its portfolio through the company PrairiE Systems. The system has two interfaces – one for the ordering party and one for the receiving party, often a feed mill or an intermediate bureau.
The web-based programme allows ordering on-time and evaluation of nutrition programmes. So-called 'ration verification' delivers the right feed at the right time. Information can be obtained by farm, by barn, by group and by pen. For now, the product can only be used for the weaning to finish period. Plans are, to possibly extend service to include slaughterhouse information as well in the future.
Next year's World Pork Expo will be held June 9-11, 2010, at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
The National Pork Board advises
Security and vigilance – those two words were key in the National Pork Board's communication towards swine producers, as could be seen around the WPX. The National Pork Board (NPB) advised them to step up on-farm biosecurity practices and to remain vigilant by carefully monitoring all pigs.
• Limit the number of people allowed into the pork production operation
• Develop and implement an enhanced biosecurity protocol for workers, service personnel and all other people entering a facility
• Establish, implement and enforce strict sick leave policies for workers who have developed influenza-like symptoms
• Follow industry-accepted biosecurity practices, including those related to hygiene, ventilation, protection, vaccination and herd health programmes.
When observing respiratory illness in pigs, for pigs going off-feed or pigs developing a fever, contact a swine veterinarian immediately.
 Source: Pig Progress Volume 25 nr 6

Pig Progress, volume 25, no.6 2009

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