Animal health experts react to HSUS charge

Reverberations continue to rumble in the wake of last week’s Humane Society of the United States undercover video showing sows being fed ground parts of piglets that died of a virus that’s killed an estimated 2 percent of young pigs in the U.S.

Focus of the video expose, an HSUS release said, was undertaken at the Iron Maiden Hog Farm, in Owensboro, Ky. HSUS said it is opposed to feeding intestines from baby pigs which had died from porcine epidemic diarrhea virus to sows to provide immunity from the virus.

The Center for Food Integrity, based in Kansas City, Mo., a panel of farm animal care specialists created to analyze undercover video investigations at livestock farms, is among the latest to weigh in on the Feb. 20 video issue as the swine industry continues to find solutions to end the spread of PED virus resulting in the death of large numbers of baby pigs since it was first diagnosed in the U.S. in spring 2013.

The total number of positive-tested cases of PED virus now stands at 3,528 with the figure representing all cases going back to April 2013.

Two new states, Idaho and Montana, have now been added to the positive-testing states.

Iowa continues to lead in total numbers with 1,159.

The AASV said, on Feb. 19, it has determined that PED virus was present in samples of U.S.-origin plasma used as a feed pellet ingredient and was obtained at the third-party manufacturer for Grand Valley Fortifiers producer of the pellets.

Testing with a swine bioassay, the AASV release added, has determined that the plasma ingredient contains PED virus capable of causing disease in pigs.

Offers immunity

Animal specialists Dr. Candace Croney, Purdue University; Dr. Lisa Tokach, a practicing Kansas swine veterinarian; Dr. John Deen, of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Tom Burkgren, AASV executive director, describe the feedback process recognized within the swine industry as one giving pregnant sows immunity build-up to pass on to newborn piglets as protection from the PED virus.

“There’s no question that people may be put off by this treatment, but PED virus is wreaking havoc out there on farms and ‘feedback’ is the only control method we have found to be effective,” Dr. Burkgren said. “Is it better to save pigs’ lives and improve their welfare, or to say this is too icky and just let the pigs die?

“That’s what it comes down to because there is absolutely no other alternative.”

Burkgren said the virus has been known in the U.S. for less than 12 months, and with little in the way of funding for research into animal vaccines, there has not been time to develop a more sophisticated response to the virus.

Deen said, “The welfare issue on the farm featured in this video is the PED virus issue and the many pigs that are dying from it.

“This process is universally recognized as having real efficacy in reducing the number of pigs that are dying.”

Tokach said HSUS’ claim that intensively housed hogs are more likely to contact disease and lead to development of new pathogens is “contradicting current research and understanding” of disease emergence.

“I work with all sizes of farms,” Tokach said, “and they are all dealing with the same issues. It’s just more dramatic when you have 5,000 sows instead of five sows.”

Croney, an animal welfare specialist and ethicist, said the public might wonder why science has not progressed to the point that more refined procedures are available.

Few available tools

Dr. Paul Sundberg, a veterinarian and the National Pork Board’s vice president for science and technology, termed the Feb. 20 video as “a dire situation” at a time when producers and veterinarians are “using the only tool (available) to stimulate the immunity of the sow.”

Adding to the assessment of the situation, Dr. Rodney Baker, an Iowa State University diagnostic veterinarian, said, “It (the feedback) isn’t anything anyone wants to do.

“But in these situations, it is the only way we know of saving a lot of pigs. From that perspective, it is the humane thing to do to reduce mortality.”

Baker was quoted in a Meatingplace article as explaining the controlled exposure in an infected sow herd has successfully decreased the number of baby pig death losses, prompting the swine industry to spend an estimated $1 million during the past nine months searching ways to curb the virus.

On Feb. 21, Farm News published a story that Harrisvaccine, based in Ames, developed a non-viable vaccine against PED virus in August 2013. Its founder and president, Dr. Hank Harris, said almost a million doses have been sold in states where the virus is prevalent.

Defending industry

Pork producers, including Bill Tentinger, of Le Mars, past president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, have also reacted to the HSUS’ latest attack on the swine industry.

“What’s at issue here is not one involving only confinement production or the packing industry,” Tentinger said. “It involves everyone having a role in producing our food as we know it today.

“It is, however, important for us within the production chain to remember that even if you are raising food in an acceptable way you may be subjected to criticism.

“For some, it appears, there is really no acceptable way, and these people are not going to go away.”

Emphasizing his belief that outside pressure will continue on the pork industry, Tentinger said producers will need to continue to “publically defend” their industry and not let others determine how the industry is operated.

“This is our responsibility to defend our freedom and our right to operate within a sustainable pork industry,” he said.