Can foreign animal diseases enter the US via feed imports from high risk countries?
Until recently, we didn’t know the answer, because the research had not been done. Thanks to Dr. Scott Dee at the Pipestone Applied Research, Pipestone Veterinary Services, South Dakota State University (SDSU) and Swine Health Information Center (SHIC), www.swinehealth.org, we can now answer that question.
“The answer appears to be true,” says Dee. “Via simulation, we’ve shown for the first time that viral pathogens can move from country to country through feed imports from countries of high risk to countries without the disease.”
Dee is known in the pork industry for his commitment to groundbreaking Porcine Respiratory and Reproductive Syndrome (PRRS) research and has received numerous awards recognizing him for his contribution to the global pork industry. And now, Dee can add groundbreaking research on feed biosecurity and transboundary risk to his belt.
“Research like this is a new box for me . . . outside the PRRS box. It’s fun.” Dee adds, “Some producers say it is the greatest thing ever done for the industry. I’m truly humbled by this sentiment. And simultaneously, that’s why I love this work. It has potential impact. That fires my tank and keeps the brain working. I credit our leadership team at Pipestone for their support of doing this type of research and their desire to share it with everyone.”
Why was feed biosecurity and transboundary risk on the radar? Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) used to be exotic to the US. In May of 2013, PED reared its ugly head; it spread rapidly across the United States pork industry, causing acute diarrhea, vomiting, fevers, and 90-100% mortality of suckling piglets under 10 days of age in naïve farms. “When it started, we didn’t even have a good way to test for PED,” says executive director of SHIC, Dr. Paul Sundberg. “The National Pork Board and Pork Checkoff stepped up to quickly fund the needed research to do that. Besides sponsoring novel transboundary feed biosecurity research, making sure we are ready is also part of SHIC’s mission . . . to make sure we are ready to test for emerging pathogens!”
“Our first PED strain was 99.8% similar to a strain found in China,” says Scott Dee. “PED likely came to us in the feed from China. I am quite convinced of that.” Of great concern is that China and other countries have Foot and Mouth, Hog cholera, Pseudorabies, and extremely virulent strains of Porcine Respiratory Reproductive Syndrome (PRRS). The US pork industry needed to know if these other diseases could make it across the ocean in feed. Dee and his leadership team at Pipestone Systems and the researchers at SDSU responded.
“Why did we do this research? It’s the next frontier, but also, we have a vested interest in knowing whether feed ingredients from overseas are a potential way foreign animal disease can enter the US animal food supply chain.” explains Dee. We wanted to explore this potential risk and openly share results with the livestock industry so the world can be more informed about feed biosecurity.”
Their question was . . . if PED got here through the feed, can Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) or other emerging pathogens travel through the feed too? Knowing that if diseases like Foot and Mouth ever made it to the US, it would be well over a $16,000,000,000 mistake for the US ag industry; SHIC, and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV), funded the innovative transboundary research.
“So we’re simulating the transport of feed ingredients from China to the US. We have logs of temperatures, humidity, and a list of typical ingredients. We inoculate the ingredients with surrogate viruses similar to emerging diseases of concern and measure whether they survive our simulated trip,” explains Dee.
It takes 37 days to travel from Beijing to Shanghai to San Francisco to Des Moines. More than 37 days later, Dee has some answers. PED and other pathogens of concern, including Foot and Mouth Disease surrogates, can make it through the simulation in a variety of ingredients. This implies for the first time that high risk pathogens can move from high risk country to lower risk country through feed imports.
“Our goal is to raise awareness . . . that if the stars align in the wrong direction, this might happen. So what do we do now?” Dee answers his own question. “We start the conversation,” encourages Dee. “Realize it is dangerous to make recommendations and sweeping changes right now. The data are still coming in. But we are already looking at possible mitigants. There are many factors we need to understand. What is out there? Where are local mills getting ingredients? Are there concerns?”
“Should we buy more from the U.S.? Definitely,” says Dee. “We have the best production facilities in our own country. Why are we importing when product is available here? But we want changes to be data driven verses knee-jerk style. There’s more work that needs to be done.”
An example of a risk factor identified in the research is that soybean meal appears to be a good carrier for many of the surrogate viruses. Traditionally, in developing nations, soybeans are open air dried. They may be on public roads where vehicles travel and livestock wander. In countries where this is the practice, unwanted pathogens are also present in livestock that may have contact with these drying feed sources. Livestock could potentially contaminate the soybeans with a pathogen which could be included in an export.
“We need to prove this, though, “emphasizes Dee. “The next research could involve getting samples of product along the growing, processing and export/import pathway so we can truly define risk factors, not just for China, but for other countries that export as well.”
Seneca Valley Virus (SVV) was the surrogate virus for FMD in Dee’s studies. It survived very well in many feed ingredients. “If we get FMD, we are in big trouble,” emphasizes Dee, “which is why this research has impact across all food animal species.” Diseases like Foot and Mouth (FMD) affects pigs, cattle, dairy, goats, sheep, as well as deer and other cloven-hoofed ruminants.
“If change is needed, the pork industry needs the cattle and ruminant industry on our side to generate the kinds of sweeping changes on import or feed handling biosecurity that could reduce our risk. “Keeping other species in the loop will be helpful, because together we have a louder voice,” says Dee.
Open communication is a passion of Dee’s. “You know I just remember how ugly it was [in the early days of PRRS]. It was so private and everyone was fighting against each other. I think with PED it’s been a very different approach. I think with SVV it’s a different approach as well.” SVV is a virus recently present in the pork industry that looks clinically similar to Foot and Mouth Disease.
“Open communication is the philosophy we as an industry are following now, which is fantastic. We want to continue this and facilitate this. We think it’s important that this information gets transferred and shared with everyone so everybody has access to it.”
“For years, the veterinary community never considered feed a biosecurity risk, but now we know it is a risk. We must keep disease out so we can feed families and keep the price of pork reasonable for consumers. We also need to do this for animal welfare. If some of these foreign animal diseases get to the US, animals will not only suffer, they could and will die. Think Avian Influenza . . . and all the birds we had to kill. Think of all the consequences in Europe after their last bout with FMD. This is an animal welfare issue too. . .. as well as human welfare issue. . . there is psychological trauma in caregivers with mortality like that.”
“As we grow information, veterinarians and livestock producers need to stay closely in tune so that decisions can be made when data is finally in. With the mission of SHIC to prepare the pork industry . . . this is spot on, this is what we need. With our industry becoming so dependent on exports, we have got to protect it. Before SHIC, there was too much, ‘We’re going to get to it eventually…’ The work SHIC is doing is filling that void with drive and focus . . . Great vision,” says Dee.
Supporting SHIC is important . . . as SHIC is driving this novel research,” encourages Dee. “We need this . . . a center that can help us with decision making once the research is completed. And eventually, we may want to consider repeating these studies using the actual foreign animal disease at a qualified facility.”
This research was funded in part by Swine Health Information Center. The mission of the Swine Health Information Center is to protect and enhance the health of the United States swine herd through coordinated global disease monitoring, targeted research investments that minimize the impact of future disease threats, and analysis of swine health data. For more information, visit www.swinehealth.org or contact Dr. Sundberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.