The British pig industry is on red alert, in a bid to prevent an outstandingly virulent pig disease from entering the country. Until more is known about transmission routes of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PED virus), the industry is focusing in particular on a specialist feed ingredient for young pigs -- spray-dried porcine plasma (SDPP).
Positive polymerase chain reaction tests in the U.S. and bioassay tests by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have pointed to SDPP as an ingredient being capable of containing PED virus, but not that it is necessarily capable of actually transmitting the disease. Further tests are ongoing in the hope of getting a clearer picture.
But specialist pig vets say that if PED virus arrived in Britain it would spread quickly through the nation's naive pig population, causing incalculable damage, so industry organizations are urging producers to take every precaution, even though the case against SDPP is unproven.
All pig producers are being urged to work with feed manufacturers, nutritionists and vets to identify and immediately isolate any feed products on farms that are labeled as containing SDPP.
SDPP is banned by Red Tractor assurance, which regulates over 90 percent of the nation's domestic pig supply. However, it may be present in a few milk replacer and milk blend products without producers necessarily being aware of the fact.
PED virus is harmless to humans but is killing up to 100 percent of piglets on affected pig farms in the U.S. Nobody knows how the highly infectious virus spread to the U.S. from China, and how it has subsequently spread to Mexico and Canada.
To help producers make the safest choices, National Pig Association and BPEX will be publishing on their respective websites a list of manufacturers that guarantee all their products, particularly milk replacer and milk blend products, are entirely free of SDPP.
BPEX and NPA are also reminding producers that they should only use feed that is monitored by UFAS, the animal feed assurance scheme.
"It is impossible to overstate the damage PED virus would cause if it arrived in Britain," said veterinarian Derek Armstrong, of BPEX. "The evidence from the U.S. is that it is so outstandingly infectious that just one infected pig is all it would take to start an epidemic in this country which could kill as much as 10 percent of the national herd."
NPA Chairman Richard Longthorp said, "We are clear that we don't want to be looking back in a few months, and wish we had been more cautious. We are all agreed in the pig sector that we should close off every avenue of risk and potential risk for the time being."
Current estimates suggest that in the U.S. alone PED virus could kill as many as 5 million piglets before the national herd starts to develop antibodies against the virus, equivalent to 4.5 percent of all pigs sent to slaughter.
In addition to the question mark over SDPP, the virus can spread rapidly through contact with sick animals, as well as through people's clothing, hands, equipment, boots, and tools contaminated with the feces of infected animals.