Swine Health Information Center to Focus on Disease Threats

by Dr. Paul Sundberg


The experience of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) is offering us many lessons. How the virus got into the United States was one of the first questions asked. We still don’t have the answer.

But we have learned that the logistics of today’s pork production is so large that the likelihood of being able to protect against the entry of another disease is, at best, extremely small. International travel has dramatically increased, and pork producers import a wide variety of inputs onto their farms. We have to be better prepared for more of these types of production diseases getting into the United States.


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Being prepared means that the U.S. pork industry has to take seriously the need for a coordinated response to these diseases or we will repeat the PEDV experience. We can’t rely only on state or federal animal health officials, including USDA, to protect pigs. Resources to be able to do this are not available.

We need a coordinated state-federal-industry response – things that we can do together. And we need a planned industry response – things that we do for ourselves.

The first is being worked on. We’re not there yet, but  much progress has been made. The second is being answered by the formation of the Swine Health Information Center.

The National Pork Board’s directors have approved the use of $15 million of supplemental Checkoff money to form the center and support that industry response. These funds are outside of the normal Checkoff budget and budgeting process, so other research, education or promotion programs won’t be affected.

The money will be used during the next five years.  At the end of that time, the center will either sunset, or it will have demonstrated enough return on that investment to look for additional sources of funding.

And, to be clear, the center will be its own, separate corporation. Although initially funded with Checkoff supplemental funds, it also will look for other funding.

The center has its own board of directors. All this will help ensure the security of any information and analysis. The center will add to and not duplicate the efforts and abilities of the National Pork Board, the National Pork Producers Council or the American Association of Swine Veterinarians.

Focus on Three Goals

The center has three big goals. The center will monitor foreign and endemic disease risks and vulnerabilities. It will gather and coordinate swine disease risk information from a variety of private, company and government resources and will inform producers of emerging swine disease risks, helping them be better prepared. The center also will focus research resources.

Second, the center will fund and manage research needed to improve diagnostic capabilities to detect emerging production diseases. The research will help fill diagnostic and information gaps identified by global monitoring. And, as diseases change and priorities change, the center will ensure the right focus on the highest-risk diseases.

Third, using new technology without the need to capture producer information into a separate database, the center will support epidemiological analysis of diseases that will help improve swine health on the farm. This also will give producers the information they need to help  make decisions on their farms that will affect biosecurity and biocontainment.

As the center progresses, it can provide support for the Secure Pork Supply plan to enable producers to provide the health assurances needed for pig movement in the face of some diseases. And it can give the industry a way to manage national swine health information to support international trade of U.S. pork products.

The center’s development hasn’t really been “behind the scenes.” The National Pork Board’s directors thought about and debated its formation for the last year. In the end, the board concluded that the one-time investment of extra Checkoff funds will give us better pig health tools and better prepare us for the future.  Learning lessons from PEDV may help us to not repeat that piece of our history.