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Hog Farmers Required To Report Disease Outbreaks

File: Peter Gray
Harvest Public Media

Hog farmers are now required to report outbreaks of certain viral diseases that have spread across the country during the past year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Until now, two strains of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus and swine delta coronavirus, which is similar to PED but not as lethal, had not been considered reportable diseases. That’s partly because they do not pose any food safety or human health threat. But the rapid spread of PED, in particular, has led to huge losses in the pork supply because the disease can wipe out entire litters of piglets.

The USDA hopes that the new information will help quell the spread of the virus. But Iowa State University veterinarian Rodney Baker says the reporting requirement may be too little too late.

“Reporting itself doesn’t help us with the disease at all,” Baker said, “unless there’s some action taken through the reporting process that prevents the spread of the disease.”

Baker says it’s not yet clear whether the department will take further action. But he recognizes that mandatory reporting is an important step.

“We certainly need to get this in place,” he said. “Knowing that these diseases managed to get through our border biosecurity tells us that there’s a lot of other ones out there that could affect trade.”

Baker says U.S. pork producers earn 20 to 25 percent of their income from the export market. Lessons learned in controlling PED and delta coronavirus could be useful when the next new disease enters this country, Baker says. For now, the reporting change doesn’t call for restrictions on movement or trade.

And Baker says it may improve the accuracy of loss estimates, which until now relied on voluntary reporting. He’s hopeful a hot summer, tighter biosecurity measures and the increased paper trail reporting will generate may all combine to prevent a widespread outbreak of PED next winter.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth. She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.
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