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Opinion: Pig disease raises animal ID question

The past few weeks have brought sobering animal health news to the Vermont livestock community. A relatively new disease, Porcine Endemic Diarrhea (PED), has been found for the first time in the Green Mountain State. This is one of the few reported cases outside traditional pork producing states, and the disease seemingly skipped over larger states such as New York.
PED was first identified in the U.S. only last year and has since spread rapidly to nearly 30 states. The disease, caused by a virus, presents with diarrhea in pigs of all ages, but nursing piglets are especially hard hit with virtually 100 percent death loss. Scientists are searching for the origin of the disease with evidence that it may have come from China with its huge swine industry. The virus is spread in manure and can travel from farm to farm in pigs that have survived infection, contaminated trucks, boots and other materials that have been contaminated. It is surmised that PED entered Vermont in manure on a contaminated livestock trailer from another state. There are no vaccines for this emerging disease and treatment is very difficult since the virus causes rapid dehydration.
Fortunately Vermont does not have a significant pork industry, although there are many smaller farms with a few adult pigs with litters and a few larger breeding operations that sell pork to local consumers and restaurants. The presence of this new disease, however, can teach some lessons to all livestock farmers about how diseases can spread quickly. All livestock producers should insist that vehicles that come onto their premises from other farms be clean. People that travel from farm to farm like milk truck drivers, livestock auction personnel, feed and seed representatives, insemination technicians and, yes, veterinarians, should be clean and wash their footwear after each visit. Sick animals from other farms should never be taken off trucks and reloaded.
There are few diseases in the U.S. that can affect our cattle, sheep and goats in such a dramatic manner as PED. Only a few years ago, however, all of us reacted with horror as foot and mouth disease devastated the livestock industry of Great Britain. Thankfully foot and mouth is not present in the U.S., but the British outbreak should be a wakeup call for those of us who work with animals on the farm. After this British outbreak of foot and mouth many farms in Vermont ramped up their biosecurity. Over time these steps were softened and slowly forgotten. It’s time to revisit a biosecurity plan for your farm with your veterinarian. Ask questions about a proper vaccination program, protocols for newly purchased animals and safety for your animals when they visit fairs and other livestock shows.
The discovery of PED also highlights the importance of a registration program for farms. Farm registration and ID was discussed a few years ago in Vermont and proved to be very unpopular. Now we have an emerging disease of importance that could potentially have a devastating impact on our locally raised pork, but animal health officials have no idea how many or where swine farms are in the state so that they can warn and educate producers. Registration and ID was proposed after the British outbreak of foot and mouth with just such a situation as this in mind. Hopefully in the future Vermont officials will have the information and tools they need to protect our animal’s health.

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