5/10/2014 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent
The New York State Fair is suspending its piglet and sow exhibition and competition from the 12-day event this August to prevent the spread of porcine epidemic diarrhea, or PED. The illness, which is caused by a coronavirus, has already killed five million piglets nationwide and bears a high mortality rate for piglets.
The announcement was made May 5 by David Smith, state veterinarian, and Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball.
“The health and safety of all livestock at the 2014 fair is of paramount importance,” Ball said. “We understand that some fairgoers may be disappointed, but we want the fair to continue to show off the best in New York agriculture and we need to do so in the best possible way to protect the well-being of the animals in our care.”
“Fairs in general are a challenging environment in terms of animal disease control, and a lack of vaccine that’s been proven effective against PED makes the risk for piglets too high this year,” Smith said. “Animals come to the fair from all over the state and with a disease like PED circulating, it’s in the best interests of the animals that we take this action.”
Ed Keller, president of the New York Pork Producers, thinks that the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets made the right call.
“The sow and litters are generally 2 to 4 weeks old when they go there,” Keller said. “They’re very susceptible to the viruses at that time. As a matter of displaying in front of the public, if the virus would break out, the mortality rate would probably be 100 percent. It wouldn’t be the best place for a virus to break.”
PED has spread from its first appearance in the Midwest a year ago to the East Coast. Veterinarians have diagnosed cases in piglets in New York and 24 other states. The disease nearly always kills piglets, but older pigs tend to recover. No vaccine has been developed to protect swine. Pigs get the virus by ingesting something that has come in contact with contaminated feces, but the virus does not affect other animals or humans, nor is it a threat to food safety.
“I think that the PED virus is very bad for the pork industry now and we need to contain it the best we can,” Keller said. “Biosecurity is tough at a fair. As you have all these people coming through an exposition and viewing animals, there’s a high percentage of them tracking manure throughout the fairgrounds.”
PED incubates for 12 to 24 hours. The initial sign of PED is severe diarrhea.
The fair will continue its regular exhibits of adult male pigs and females without piglets. Fair officials have told exhibitors to not bring pigs for show if any of their animals have diarrhea.
Among its suggestions for county fairs, the Department of Agriculture recommends “fairs only hold market-class or auction-class swine shows where pigs are slaughtered after the show and do not return home. Breeding-swine classes are discouraged. It is recommended that sow with litter exhibits be avoided.”
Keller agrees with those precautions.
“The county fairs continuing the breeding classes, I’m not in favor of it,” he said. “We won’t take any from our farm. I really think the state needs to come up with a policy for shows. I know most county fairs, including mine, are terminal and use only animals ready to be harvested. Any animal that shows go to market. It’s hard to tell your daughters that you can’t show this year.”
Keller heads Keller Family Farm, a Corfu-based producer that finishes 150 pigs per year.
He is a New York Pork Producers Cooperative member and served as vice president from 2004 to 2013. At the national level, he served as a member of the Resolutions/Advisement Committee for Pork Forum in 2012.
While he is sympathetic to the young people that depend on the income from showing season, he also realizes the importance of controlling PED.
“If we take 5 million animals out of production, we upset our ability to export pork,” he said. “I’m sure we have enough to supply consumer needs in our country, but our export supply will suffer.”
For more information about the Department of Agriculture & Markets Division of Animal Industry, visit www.agriculture.ny.gov. For more information on the New York State Fair, visit www.nysfair.org.