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Alberta Remains PED-Free

Communicating Regularly with Hog Farmers about the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus is Top of Mind for Alberta Pork

By Amanda Brodhagen, Farms.com

In the fight to stay Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) free, Alberta Pork turns to producer outreach to arm itself against the deadly pig disease that’s spreading on pig farms in Canada and the United States.

As many Canadian provinces are dealing with the spread of the pig-killing virus known as PED, Alberta is focused on preventing it from entering their province all together.

PED is a coronavirus that infects pigs, causing vomiting, severe diarrhea and dehydration. The virus can infect all ages of pigs, but is especially deadly for piglets, with almost a 100 per cent mortality rate. It poses no risk to human health or food safety.

Alberta at least for now has no confirmed cases of the virus, and the industry hopes to keep it that way.

The disease was first detected in Canada on Jan. 22, on a farm in Middlesex County, Ont., and it has since spread to three other provinces including Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba. To date, there are 26 confirmed cases in the country, with the bulk of them in Ontario, with 23 infected farms.

The virus was first discovered in North America last spring on a farm in the United States, where they have been grappling with the virus ever since. As of last month, the total number of U.S. farms that have tested positive for PED stands at 3,856.

Getting the Message Out

Alberta Pork which represents 350 of the provinces pig farmers is getting back to basics by using communication as a tool to share information with producers about protecting their herds from the disease.

The industry group has played a significant role in getting information out to producers and industry about the virus. Some of their initiatives include: hosting in-person meetings, town halls (every two weeks), and posting regular updates on its website.

Most of Alberta Pork’s communication efforts have been producer centred, going over best management practices for on-farm biosecurity.

“Our focus is really on biosecurity and insuring that producers and their service providers are being vigilant about maintaining it,” Geoff Geddes, Communications Coordinator for Alberta Pork said in an interview.

He adds that maintaining strict biosecurity protocols remains the best defense in keeping the disease off of farms.

The town hall meetings have featured a new topic each time - including discussions on transportation as a major risk factor for transmitting the disease, and hearing from producers who have had firsthand experience with PED.

“We are really encouraged by the level of participation from producers and from industry,” explains Geddes.

Biosecurity signs have also become very popular among producers. Alberta Pork says it has made signs available to farmers looking to add extra signage to their properties. Geddes said that at its last meeting about 30 or 40 producers took signs. Signage is a fundamental part of controlling visitor access to the farm gate and preventing the spread of the disease.

Geddes praises the provincial government for working closely with the industry monitoring the situation. “They’ve been a huge help,” he said, adding that Alberta Pork and the province talk regularly about PED developments.

While Alberta has no identified cases of the virus to date, the industry understands that reality could quickly change.

In Feb. the U.S. state of Montana reported its first confirmed case of the pig virus, a close proximity to the province of Alberta. “It’s a lot closer now,” says Geddes, adding that there is a lot more shipments between the state of Montana and Alberta, compared to the infected province of Ontario.

“We are trying to arm people [farmers] with as much information as we can on the disease and how to prevent it,” he said.