One of the province's top hog industry officials said there is no reason to panic over last week's discovery a deadly virus, which has killed millions of piglets in the U.S., has entered Canada.
"It just means we have to be even more vigilant," Manitoba Pork Council (MPC) general manager Andrew Dickson said in response to the announcement late last week the first Canadian case of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus had been found on a farm in Middlesex County, near London, Ont.
"We can't assume trucks coming out of the rest of Canada are safe," Dickson said. "Not that we ever did anyway..."
Dickson also noted that, geographically speaking, Minnesota poses a bigger threat to Manitoba's hog industry than Ontario.
"Ontario is 26 hours (drive) away, but there are (PED) cases now in Minnesota and they're only four hours away," he said. "We also sell three million baby pigs (per year) into the United States. So I'm more concerned about it moving (here) from central Minnesota than from Ontario because there are so many trucks going back and forth."
Dr. Glen Duizer, Manitoba's animal-health surveillance veterinarian, agrees Minnesota poses a bigger threat than Ontario, and there's no need to panic.
Duizer said provincial officials are working closely with MPC to ensure plans are in place to try to prevent the virus from entering Manitoba and limit its spread if it does.
"But the first message I want to get out is that this is not a human health concern and it is not a food-safety concern," he said, although it is a threat to the hog industry.
Dickson said the key to eliminating the PED threat, which appeared years ago in Europe and China and surfaced last May in the United States, is developing an effective vaccine.
Duizer said a vaccine is currently being tested in the United States, but it's unclear how effective it is in protecting pigs from the virus.
"It's got mixed results so far. It's not a perfect vaccine by any means, although it is a safe vaccine."
Even if an effective vaccine is developed, Duizer said there are federal procedures that would have to be followed before it could be approved for use in Canada.
He said the biggest thing working in Manitoba's favour is the hog industry and many of the province's hog producers have adopted a series of bio-security measures over the last five years that have been effective in preventing other viruses and diseases from entering their barns.
"I think that is going to be one of the key ways producers will be able to keep this virus out of their farms," he added.
Dickson and MPC vice-chairman Rick Bergmann, who has a 1,700-sow operation near Steinbach, said those measures include a "shower in, shower out" policy that requires all visitors to shower and change their clothes before entering and leaving a hog barn.
As well, all livestock trucks and trailers must be washed and disinfected before coming onto a farm, and a series of commercial truck-and-trailer cleaning centres have been established to disinfect trucks returning from out-of-province trips.
Claude Vielfaure, executive vice-president and chief operating officer for Hylife Foods, which operates 90 hog barns in the province and a large hog-processing plant in Neepawa, confirmed Hylife already has similar bio-security measures in place at all its barns.
Vielfaure said it also has some of its own truck-and-trailer cleaning stations, although it sends some of its vehicles to commercial stations that are owned and operated by Steinbach-based Steve's Livestock Transport.
Dickson said Steve's hauls a lot of pigs to the United States and operates one of the province's largest networks of truck-and-trailer cleaning centres.