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Virus could cost hog industry millions

Second case found on Ontario farm

TORONTO -- A deadly pig virus that has infected at least two Ontario farms could cost the Canadian pork industry tens of millions of dollars if it spreads across provincial borders, a group representing Ontario's hog farmers warned Monday.

Officials announced a second case of porcine epidemic diarrhea was confirmed this weekend in a farm in Chatham-Kent, as well as a possible third case in the same region.

The first case, a farrow-to-finish farm in southwestern Ontario, was found last week -- a discovery that heightened concern among the country's hog producers.

"We do anticipate that this will be tough on our industry. It's all going to depend on where it goes from here," said Amy Cronin of Ontario Pork.

"We are putting into place measures to try to manage the virus as best we can and keep it off as many farms as we can given that it is very contagious," she said.

"We estimate that if it were to spread past Ontario throughout Canada, within one year, it could cost $45 million to the Canadian pork industry."

Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson said Monday while it's disconcerting the disease has been found in Ontario, the risk of it spreading from there to Manitoba isn't great because so few pigs are traded between the two provinces.

"I can't say it never happens, but I wouldn't call it a regular occurrence," Dickson said.

He reiterated the bigger threat is the disease will spread here from Minnesota or one of the other north-central states, where Manitoba ships more than three million weanling pigs per year.

Dickson noted the disease has already been found on farms in central Minnesota, "and that might mean we'll start seeing outbreaks in South Dakota, and then it could start getting into North Dakota." The fear is the disease could be brought back on one of the returning livestock trucks. That's why industry protocol calls for trucks to be washed and disinfected upon their return.

Most Manitoba producers also require trucks be washed and disinfected before they allow them onto their farms. They also require all visitors, including truck drivers, shower and change their clothes before entering and leaving their barns.

Porcine epidemic diarrhea is usually fatal in young pigs, but older animals can recover. Producers have long worried that PED might make its way up from the U.S., where it has killed millions of piglets.

Ontario's chief veterinarian said hundreds of piglets -- nearly 100 per cent of those between two and five days old -- have died so far at the first farm, located near London, Ont.

The other two hold older pigs and have not seen "significant mortality," Greg Douglas said.

Officials said the virus does not affect food safety and is not a risk to human health.

It's unclear where the virus came from, but Douglas said there appears to be an "indirect link" between the affected farms.

"We still are under the impression that there are strategies which we can work on to help mitigate, slow the spread of this virus in Ontario," he said in a news conference.

"However, the confirmed case, second case and the third under suspicion certainly does change the situation -- the reality -- here in Ontario."

So far, the province has stopped short of imposing a quarantine, saying farmers are co-operating and neither pigs nor animal products are leaving the infected farms.

And there is no plan to halt the transport of pork between Canada and the U.S., said Harpreet Kochhar, Canada's chief veterinary officer.

 

-- The Canadian Press, with files from Murray McNeill

 

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