Pigs, like people, can become ill from a variety of diseases. Farmers naturally want to defend against any threat to their herds, workers or the public. Therefore, pork biosecurity measures — management practices designed to prevent the introduction of diseases and disease-causing agents into a herd — are essential. One way to promote pork biosecurity is to manage access to and movement from a farm of anything capable of carrying disease, including people, pigs, birds, wild animals, rodents, equipment and water.
In every segment of animal agriculture, disease prevention continuously poses challenges; new diseases occasionally appear that are not easily understood. These diseases not only threaten the ability of animals to grow but also they threaten the comfort of the animal and, sometimes, the safety of the food supply. For these reasons, we are continuously focused on how to mitigate the introduction of disease into the herd.
There have been significant advancements in how animals are sheltered and cared for, disease prevention, food safety and the adoption of more-sustainable pig farming practices. Today’s pig farming facilities have strict biosecurity practices to help ensure that diseases are not accidentally introduced to animals. Because most pigs raised for food today are housed in barns instead of outdoors, facility workers can carefully manage barn biosecurity to help keep out disease-causing pathogens.
The use of outdoor facilities makes it more difficult to manage disease-causing pathogens. With indoor facilities, farmers can require workers and visitors to sign in and out, state when they last visited another farm, wear special boots and coveralls, and even shower before entering and upon exiting. These security protocols lead to healthier pigs and a safer food supply.
Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV)
Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) has been identified on pig farms in the United States through testing at the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratories. PEDV only affects pigs and poses no risk to other animals or humans. The disease does not pose a risk to food safety, and pork remains completely safe to eat.
Periodically, pigs get diarrhea. Various production diseases are routinely monitored on farms. When illness affects a herd, pig farmers work with veterinarians and diagnostic laboratories to manage those illnesses. Although PEDV is relatively new to the United States, it’s not a new disease. It's widespread in many countries in Europe as well as in China, Korea and Japan. PEDV is not a regulatory/reportable disease and is not trade-restricting. It's a pig-farming-related disease.
The USDA, State Animal Health Officials, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians and veterinarians at the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council are actively monitoring this disease and will make recommendations to pig farmers as necessary.
Controlling the Spread of PEDV
Currently there is no vaccine available. Farmers, veterinarians, universities, federal agencies, national and state pork organizations and other experts are working to better understand the disease in order to help farmers prevent it from spreading to their farm. One mitigation strategy that has proven effective over time in fighting pig diseases is a practice called “feedback.” Feedback is an all-natural process that exposes a mother sow to the virus so that the sow can develop immunities to help control diseases like PEDV.
This kind of natural exposure has been used in human medicine and, at the recommendation of veterinarians, animals for decades. Farmers and their veterinarians determine the best method of feedback to help save the lives of the baby pigs threatened with PEDV. For example, diluted feces can be used to expose sows to the disease, allowing them to develop protective immunities that are passed to their piglets via the sow’s milk. Sometimes, the farmer and veterinarian may decide that it’s more effective to use tissues that are incorporated into a mother sow’s feed to achieve the same goal of protecting future pigs. It is used on small and large farms as a natural means of preventing pig diseases that might otherwise cause prolonged suffering and death of piglets less than three weeks of age.
Key points about PEDV:
- PEDV is NOT a human health issue. Pork remains completely safe to eat.
- Currently there is no vaccine available to cure or prevent PEDV.
- PEDV is a pig farming virus only affecting pigs. It poses no risk to other animals, humans or food safety.
- PEDV is not a new virus; it’s been found in countries worldwide.
- The USDA, State Animal Health Officials, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians and veterinarians at the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council are actively engaged in monitoring and continuing to manage this disease.
- The National Pork Board’s Board of Directors approved $1,100,000 toward research and communication to better understand the PED virus.