Ontario Pork has hired Chris Duke of the Department of Land Resource Sciences at the University of Guelph to map the location of every hog farm, hog packing plant and hog industry facility in the province.

Duke will hire 10 people to start collecting the data in October, using the Global Positioning System (GPS) to record the coordinates for the facilities. He wants to be finished within a year.

The mapping effort is aimed at building a system to deal with emergency outbreaks of highly contagious diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Ontario Pork will match Duke's mapping data with its own databases, which include every hog marketed by its 4,500 members. Ontario law requires every market hog to go through the Ontario Pork marketing board.

Ontario Pork's directors and staff were alarmed when they learned during a simulated exercise how FMD could devastate the industry. That exercise involved a faked outbreak that began in Mexico, moved through the U.S. and came into Ontario on long-distance livestock trucks and spread from auction centers in southwestern Ontario. The results of that test exercise were underscored by the outbreak in the United Kingdom a few months later.

Ontario's milk marketing board has already completed GPS mapping for all of the province's dairy farms. The poultry industry is also working on plans to use GPS to locate every barn and related facility.

In addition to mapping the location of every barn and industry facility, Duke's team will be gathering names, addresses, telephone numbers, fax numbers and e-mail addresses so that someone can be contacted as soon as there's an alarm.

The data will be a big help in getting on top of a disease outbreak fast. For example, it will be possible to immediately identify all of the hog barns within three to six miles of an outbreak and to establish and enforce a quarantine zone.

Duke will start with the addresses of Ontario Pork's 4,500 members, but mailing addresses are not always a good clue to the barn locations. Nor are all hog barns and owners registered with Ontario Pork. For example, those who run sow barns or nurseries, and sell only weaners, are not listed.

Duke will utilize the university's Department of Land Resource Sciences computer system that uses GPS to organize soil survey data collected over decades. Duke stresses that the data he's collecting will be kept confidential and will belong to Ontario Pork.

If there's an emergency, such as a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or chemical spill, Ontario Pork can decide how to use the information.