Pork producers and veterinarians have eliminated many diseases, but now it's time to build a workable biosecurity program to upgrade animal health.

Many positive strides have fueled the control and elimination plans for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus, notably fixing the semen supply and improving the procedures for introducing replacement gilts.

But all too often, that work goes for naught as the devastating disease finds its way back onto the farm. The reason — many hog operations still lack a functional biosecurity program, says Rodney “Butch” Baker, DVM, Iowa State University.

“I think if we are going to really start down the road where we want to eradicate agents like mycoplasma and PRRS, the first thing we have to fix is our national biosecurity,” he stresses.

Such a program must include two biosecurity components:

  • Internal biosecurity (bio-management) protects against known farm agents. Producers commonly protect against such bacterial diseases like Echerichia coli by sanitation — washing the rooms between farrowing groups — and use of vaccine.

  • External biosecurity (bio-exclusion), on the other hand, is the wall that is built around the farm or even a country to keep out a PRRS-type virus or a foreign animal disease, he says.

For Baker, who has worked with a number of major pork production companies on PRRS elimination strategies, one of the keys will be addressing the next biosecurity frontier — the trucks and trailers used to haul pigs and breeding stock around the United States.

“In my opinion, it is the transport area where we should really be currently focused, and not just for control of the PRRS virus,” he states.

Baker says he is “really bothered” by how fast the European strain of porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) swept across the country.

“In late 2005 and early 2006, we saw the first cases of porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD) in North Carolina, and the virus was in California in less than 12 months. The only way that could have happened was through viral spread by trucks,” he explains.

Circovirus presents some unique challenges. It is spread solely by fecal-oral contact. It is a very hardy virus that isn't killed by heat, meaning baking trailers won't work.

“You have to get the disinfectant and the virus together to kill it; in our trailers there are just too many virus hiding places. So just a physical inspection of a trailer is not good enough,” he notes.

PRRS Challenges Ahead

Despite years of research and on-farm efforts to control PRRS, the jury is still out on exactly how the virus spreads. Aerosol spread is real, but documentation indicates it's probably a rare event, he says.

“We think that the PRRS virus is evolving and mutating in the finishers — in the growing pig — where it has opportunities to go through its natural change process,” Baker says. Through biosecurity breaks, the virus is finding its way back onto sow farms from the off-site finishers, and then working its way back through the production system to the finishers in a perpetual cycle.

That's not to say that progress hasn't been made. Many breeding stock companies and commercial production companies have eradicated PRRS, and the list of those dedicated to PRRS elimination continues to grow.

Commitment Needed

In Baker's opinion, the industry needs to commit to a national biosecurity process in order to embark on disease eradication efforts for PRRS and possibly Mycoplasmal pneumonia — something he says really hasn't happened so far.

Those functional biosecurity programs must be simple enough that farm staff can implement, monitor and steadily improve them. “Some people are doing a lot of things with biosecurity, but there are a lot of people doing nothing. There are a lot of transportation companies that are doing nothing, and a lot of over-the-road truck washes that instead of eliminating disease, end up disseminating disease because of cross-contamination.

“What we need is a national certification program for truck washes and trucks — a standard of sanitation — whereby you'd have a certifying body that comes around and checks truck washes annually.”

Baker applauds the Transportation Biosecurity Summit, July 15-16 in Kansas City, MO, as a first step toward real action on this issue (see sidebar).

Health Reaps Rewards

Fixing biosecurity could protect the nation's hog health and provide opportunity for disease eradication, which in turn could improve returns.

“If we eliminated a few diseases in our industry, we could produce as many pounds of pork as we produce today with less environmental impact and fewer sows, and increase our total efficiency and productivity 10-12% without spending a dollar on building more barns,” Baker says.

Transportation Biosecurity Summit Set

The Transportation Biosecurity Summit is scheduled for July 15-16 at the Embassy Suites, Kansas City International Airport.

Iowa State University and the National Pork Board will host the two-day program. The goals are to update participants on the science of transport biosecurity practices, and to identify areas where additional efforts are needed to strengthen control of disease organism movement during transport.

Highlights on July 15 include:

  • Pork producer Joy Philippi, Bruning, NE, will discuss the need for transport biosecurity.

  • Swine veterinarian Steve Henry, Abilene, KS, will talk about biosecurity limitations in pig transport.

  • Smithfield Foods swine veterinarian Perry Harms will review trailer washes and other cleaning strategies.

  • University of Minnesota swine veterinarian Scott Dee will discuss the use of thermal and non-thermal disinfecting techniques.

  • Swine veterinarian Angie Delks, Algona, IA, will review how to measure success of disinfecting protocols.

  • Pork producer/veterinarian Craig Rowles, Carroll, IA, will discuss producer-driven transport guidelines.

  • Swine veterinarian Max Rodibaugh, Frankfort, IN, will present a look at commercial haulers and on-farm concerns and solutions.

  • National Pork Board swine veterinarian Lisa Becton will talk on whether effective internal fleet separation increases biosecurity.

The July 16 program includes:

  • Leif Christensen of the Danish Meat Board will discuss Danish experiences with transport equipment and practices.

  • Matt Ritter of Elanco Animal Health will review trailer design/selection and pig handling from farm gate to packing pants.

  • National Pork Board's Erik Risa will cover the next generation of the Trucker Quality Assurance program.

  • Steve Meyer of Paragon Economics, Adel, IA, will present economic valuations for improved transport biosecurity/mortality.

For more information, contact Butch Baker, DVM, Iowa State University at rbbaker@iastate.edu; or Lisa Becton at the National Pork Board at LBecton@pork.org.

Reserve a hotel room by calling (816) 891-7788 or faxing (816) 891-7513. Registration is $25 through June 15, $50 after June 15. Online registration is available at http://www.pork.org.EventRegistration.aspx?id=2.