Does feed play a role in PEDv infection? Cargill seeks answer with $150,000 investment

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Pig Pork

Does feed play a role in PEDv infection? Cargill seeks answer with $150,000 investment
Cargill is funding feed-related research on Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) in a bid to understand how pigs become infected and to help try and eradicate it.

Although PEDv does not affect humans or pork safety, it has infected and killed millions of piglets on farms of all sizes in 27 US states since May 2013 and in four Canadian provinces since January this year. 

The $150,000 endowment is being generated from two divisions - Cargill Animal Nutrition and Cargill Pork - and is going towards research projects directed by the US National Pork Board (NPB).

Paul Sundberg, vice president of science and technology at the NPB, said the funds from Cargill are a valuable addition to its war chest for PEDv research, with financing from industry now totaling $2 million. It will help the trade group continue to build an arsenal of information on PEDv, he added.

Michael Martin, a spokesperson for Cargill, told that “There are considerable industry resources being invested in an effort to find an effective remedy to PEDv.

PEDv has impacted the entire industry. As a major pork producer, and a major supplier of feed, we want to do our fair share to help in finding a solution to this virus, which is devastating to newborn piglets.”

When asked directly about the damage wrought on the agri-giant itself by the virus, he said “While Cargill has not been exempt, we do not publicly disclose detailed information about the specific impact of PEDv at our facilities or with our contract hog producers.”

Feed’s role in PEDv transmission

More than 60 industry stakeholders, from producers, veterinarians, nutritionists, academics and government and feed association officials, were present at a roundtable discussion in Iowa, organised by the NPB last month, to see how PEDv could be eliminated and to determine if feed may play a role in how pigs are infected.

“Our main goal was to bring a group of people together to help us agree on research needs related to PEDv and feed systems so that we can get answers to on-going questions as quickly and efficiently as possible,"​ said Sundberg.

The participants agreed the virus is of Asian origin genetically, but its direct pathway to North America remains unknown, he said. 

And the group concurred that there are multiple ways for pigs to become infected via a fecal-oral route, including environmental, transportation, feed systems and other vectors, added Sundberg. 

Research priorities

The research agenda agreed by the participants, which Cargill’s funds are going towards, includes the need to investigate the effectiveness and cost of treatments to mitigate the survival of PEDv and other viruses in feeds. 

Kansas State University researchers, in a paper in February this year, said that while: “feed transmission is possible, the magnitude of the risk remains undemonstrated and in likelihood is less than other forms of transmission.  

However, we acknowledge that multiple routes of PEDv transmission are occurring and further information on feed risk and feed mitigation strategies are needed.”

Feed recall

In February this year, Ontario feed maker, Grand Valley Fortifiers, said porcine plasma in feed may pose a risk of transmission of the PED virus after it was forced to recall feed pellets from its swine producer customers that had “contained live virus capable of infecting pigs.”​ 

CEO of the feed company, Ian Ross, said that month that the firm had removed all porcine plasma from its feed products and he called on the entire feed sector to no longer formulate, have manufactured or sell pelleted nursery feed that contains porcine origin ingredients.

But tests by the Canadian regulator in the same month proved inconclusive on a link between PEDv and the feed pellets in question. 

Clumsy testing methodologies  

Ian Ross was one of the participants in the roundtable discussion. 

He told that his “take away”​ from the meeting was that PEDv “is a complicated issue and still relatively ‘new’ virus which we don’t have all the answers on.” 

He added: “Testing methodologies for live virus in feed, rectal swabs or surface swabs are clumsy and time consuming at best. As the industry seeks to better understand and ideally control the future spread of this virus and others like it, more research and development is required​.”

Post-processing feed contamination

If feed is a factor in the transfer of PEDv, based on past research, the industry knows that there are specific time and temperature combinations that should inactivate the virus, said Sundberg. 

"However, there are many variables that can affect feed, including post-processing contamination, which is another area that must be carefully controlled even if inactivation occurs,” ​he added. 

The academics and industry contributors at the Iowa event also said it was critical to conduct contamination risk assessments at all steps within the feed processing and delivery chain.

And they agreed it was essential to develop a substitute for the currently used swine bioassay testing procedures and to continue to investigate the risk of feed and other pathways for pathogen entry into the US. 

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