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Producers want more federal help for pig virus

EDMONTON - Hog producers want more help from Ottawa to deal with a virus detected in four provinces that has already killed millions of baby pigs in the United States.

Ideas include federal funding for special washing facilities at key points across Canada to properly clean biohazards out of big trucks used to transport livestock.

"These trailers need to be able to drive in, in the middle of winter, when they have frozen manure on them, and they need to be able to wash all of that out of there and then disinfect before carrying on to the farms," Amy Cronin, chairwoman of Ontario Pork, said Wednesday.

"That would be a huge benefit. It would help raise the bar across the country. It is something that I think would help all of livestock agriculture."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that since last May the porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus has swept through more than 5,700 farms in 30 states.

The highly contagious virus has been found in recent months on farms and livestock facilities in Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec and Prince Edward Island.

PED is unique to pigs and is not a threat to human health. But it could be ruinous for an industry that has been looking to earn some profits after five years of struggling with low prices.

Andrew Dickson, general manager of Manitoba Pork, said special truck washes would be a practical way of reducing the threat of the virus spreading across the border and across the country.

Producers have asked the federal government to change regulations so that trailers coming back from U.S. slaughtering plants or processing plants are properly washed and disinfected, he said.

"Right now we have a limited truck washing capacity and we are rapidly reaching a maximum on it right now. We would like some help financially on this thing."

Last Friday, Washington announced new measures to slow the spread of PED and another disease called swine delta coronovirus. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the diseases have had a devastating effect on swine health.

U.S. producers must now report PED cases to the federal government and track the movement of pigs and vehicles from farms that have tested positive for the virus.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the moves will help identify gaps in biosecurity and help stop a disease and the damage it is causing to producers, industry and, ultimately, consumers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it is aware of the new U.S. policy but there is no plan to follow suit.

"As you are aware, PEDv poses no risk to human health or food safety and, therefore, is not a reportable disease at the federal level in Canada," Lisa Murphy, a CFIA spokeswoman, wrote in an email.

"The best approach to controlling the spread of PEDv is proper biosecurity measures."

In Canada, the provinces and the Canadian Swine Health Board are largely responsible for dealing with PED with the support of the federal government.

The board includes the Canadian Association of Swine Veterinarians and industry groups including the Canadian Meat Council and the Canadian Pork Council.

The CFIA provides scientific and technical support to PED investigations and works with the Canada Border Services Agency and the industry to maintain biosecurity.

Last week, the federal and Saskatchewan governments announced $200,000 to help pay for a PED strategy in that province, including containment if the virus is discovered on a farm.

A similar federal-provincial announcement regarding PED and other animal diseases is expected Thursday in Alberta.

Dickson said the government should provide cash to help producers pay the cost of cleaning biohazards from a farm with PED, which can take up to three or four weeks.

He also hopes new federal rules for tracing pigs that are to go into effect July 1 will include information on PED.

Cronin said the federal government should consider funding a national PED co-ordinator to ensure provinces and producers have the latest information on the virus.

Neil Ketilson, general manager of Sask Pork, said producers have to come to grips with a new reality of tougher rules and safeguards.

"I think this is a real eye-opener and a game-changer. This is not a short-term thing. This is a long, long, long-term thing," he said.

"Producers are just going to have to invoke more strict policies and be ever vigilant."

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