Minnesota pork producers asked to take an important step


Minnesota pork producers can take a leadership position if they support a new voluntary program being brought forth by their state organization's board of directors. The Minnesota Board of Animal Health Partnership Proposal for PRRS/PED Control will help identify the health status of the approximately six million finishing pigs that come into the state every year.

Dr. David Wright, DVM, with Wright Veterinary Services, Buffalo, Minn., outlined the program during a session at the Minnesota Pork Congress on Tuesday this week. He said, "Fifteen million pigs are finished in Minnesota each year and of those, about six million come from other states and another million come from Canada."

Supporters believe the program will: help identify the PRRS (Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome) and PED (Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea) status of the pigs entering the state; assist in outbreak investigations; encourage vet-to-vet communication, and; inspire more regional transparency.

"Ultimately, we hope to reduce PRRS and PED infections in the state," Wright said.

Why It's Important
According to a handout at the meeting, PRRS and PED continue to plague the pork industry in Minnesota, despite reduced prevalence nationwide. The proposal is intended to improve PRRS and PED control.

"Forty percent of breeding herds continue to be re-infected," Wright said.

While regional control projects have been helpful in promoting collaboration among producers and veterinarians, effectiveness is limited by the voluntary nature of the programs. Wright said, "We've really tried to promote transparency, but part of this [program] is an educational effort."

The regional control projects have been a good first step, but as the handout noted, not all participants test and report status changes regularly, and there isn't 100 percent participation in the projects. In addition, a perceived lack of progress frustrates producers.

"We have producers who have been actively engaged in the control projects for 12 years and if we don't see progress, they're going to lose hope," Wright said.

The purpose of the proposal is "to partner with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health to gather information about PRRS and PED status of pigs entering Minnesota that could lead to a better understanding of the dynamics of disease control," according to the handout.

Wright emphasized the program's importance: "The diseases we're challenged with are not something we can deal with on our own. Typically, if we can't eliminate something we can at least better understand it.

What It Entails
The proposal would be a partnership with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health to gather information about the PRRS and PED status of pigs entering Minnesota that could lead to a better understanding of the dynamics of disease control. It's not a "top-down" program, states Wright. Rather, "It's just another opportunity for us to gather more information to determine area risk and participate in outbreak investigations," Wright said.

Confidentiality guidelines would preclude officials from pinpointing premises, however Wright noted that it is "legal and possible" to use a zip-code map and it would be easier to summarize the information. Most importantly, the information would be posted on a website that veterinarians and producers could access. It would identify new or existing areas to which PRRS- or PED-positive pigs have been placed from outside the state, to assist in risk assessment and outbreak investigation.

The voluntary program will not restrict any pigs from entering the state. The handout stated, "All pigs, regardless of status, can still enter the state - no movement restrictions would be imposed."

Wisconsin has a similar program but Wright said, "Theirs is a requirement - ours is a request. Plus, Wisconsin only has 150,000 pigs come into the state. They may be restricting movement, but that is not something we are considered here - we intend to take this next step to provide information to producers."

The program also will help identify pockets of negative pigs. Wright said, "There will be a demand for 'safe harbor' of non-vaccinated pigs."

Wright said the next step is to present the proposal to all producers in Minnesota. If producers are supportive, the MPPA board of directors and executive committee will then present the proposal to the state's Board of Animal Health.

Bottom Line: Producer Acceptance
David Preisler, Executive Director of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association, said during the meeting, "It started as a request from producers in central and northern Minnesota. We have a good relationship with the Board of Animal Health, but the bottom line is that we want to do what's right for producers."

In a follow-up interview, he said, "It's all about the value proposition and the expected outcome."

He feels producer-leaders are addressing this issue in the right way by making the project voluntary, and by getting "buy-in" from all producers. He said, "This will get a discussion with producers and veterinarians and if producers accept it, the [Minn. Pork Producer] board will make a recommendation to the Board of Animal Health."

Wright pointed out one of the biggest advantages of the proposal by quoting Dr. Michael Murtaugh, professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine: "It's better to know than not to know."