That's according to speakers at the general session of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians' 39th annual meeting, March 8-11 in San Diego. Dr. Kerry Keffaber, AASV president (see profile on page 1283), chose "Building on our Strengths" as the theme of the meeting. Concurrent sessions focused on a number of disease topics as well as "Controlling Feed Costs" (see page 1281) and "Housing and Managing the Modern Sow in Gestation" (see page 1282).
Speakers during the general session offered practitioners' perspectives and views from industry and academia about challenges and opportunities relevant to swine diseases and pork production.
The big picture
Dr. Timothy J. Loula of the Swine Vet Center in St. Peter, Minn., opened the general session with the Howard Dunne Memorial Lecture.
The title of Dr. Loula's presentation was "Use your strengths to stay in the game." He said swine veterinarians have helped eradicate many diseases and develop vaccines for others, but disease remains a major issue despite modern production systems.
"There's a lot of times I think the bugs are winning," Dr. Loula said. "I'm a little embarrassed about the past few years and how many dead pigs we've had."
Hog production is moving to grain-growing regions in response to the rising costs of feed and fuel, Dr. Loula said, and this concentration of hogs puts tremendous pressure on disease control. Epidemiology and biosecurity will dominate the immediate future for swine veterinarians, he said.
Dr. Loula said swine veterinarians should focus on their strengths, their passions, even down to the level of specific viruses. They can build on their knowledge of disease to meet increasing needs and opportunities in the pork industry.
"We have a social responsibility to cure disease and take good care of our food supply," Dr. Loula said.
Dr. Michael D. Terrill, vice president of procurement and meat quality at Clougherty Packing Co. in California, delivered the Alex Hogg Memorial Lecture.
Clougherty Packing is a subsidiary of Hormel Foods, and Dr. Terrill spoke about "The pork value chain—a view from inside a branded food company." He gave an overview of live production, livestock procurement, and pork packing and processing.
The United States will continue to be a world leader in live pig production, Dr. Terrill said. At the same time, he said, the U.S. pork industry is entering a new era of social responsibility—with commitments to animals, customers, communities, employees, and the environment.
"We're proud to raise pigs, and we're proud of the way we do it," Dr. Terrill said. "We just need to do a better job telling our story."
Dr. Terrill said the pork industry offers numerous employment opportunities for swine veterinarians, including positions in senior management for veterinarians who pursue business training.
Under the microscope
Also during the general session, speakers specifically addressed viral challenges facing swine veterinarians.
David A. Benfield, PhD, of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine spoke about "The impact of viral ecology and evolution on the science of managing viral diseases of swine."
While vaccines and management practices have helped eliminate some diseases, Dr. Benfield suggested that controlling viral infection to prevent epidemics is a better approach in some situations than trying to eradicate a virus.
Dr. Mark Wagner of Fairmont Veterinary Clinic in Minnesota spoke about the difficulties of managing swine influenza, which can influence all stages of production.
Even in a small area of southern Minnesota, variation in swine influenza viruses complicates selection of isolates for vaccination purposes. In one case, Dr. Wagner said, his practice used a farm-specific vaccine to eliminate endemic disease in suckling pigs—only to see another strain arrive.
Attendees at the 2008 meeting of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians engage in
conversation during a break.
Dr. Matthew Turner of Prestage Farms Inc. in North Carolina spoke about some of the tools for dealing with the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, which continues to cause losses.
Farms can eliminate PRRS from breeding herds, Dr. Turner said, but keeping farms free of PRRS is not easy. He said herd closure has variable results. Vaccines can have good, bad, or "ugly" results. Exposing animals to the "farm" virus can lead to dramatic losses, and a new virus always can arrive.
Dr. Turner called for additional tools to control the PRRS virus in the field, starting with a vaccine that is effective against most or all isolates.
Dr. Francois Cardinal of Les Consultants Avi-Porc in Quebec spoke about his experiences with porcine circovirus-associated disease, which took North America by surprise with high mortality rates in 2005 and 2006.
Dr. Cardinal said the availability of vaccines improved the situation tremendously in 2007, despite issues of supply and demand that led to partial dosing, but he warned against complacency. He said swine veterinarians should examine the effectiveness of half doses versus full doses of vaccine, emphasize good management practices in the face of this multifactorial disease, and seek answers as to why PCVAD suddenly became such a serious problem.
Other meeting highlights
Prior to the general session, the student seminar ran concurrently with research topics and the industrial partners' sessions. The AASV Foundation awarded scholarships for each of the 15 student presenters, while Alpharma Animal Health provided $750 travel stipends.
Carissa Schloesser (MIN '09) received a $5,000 scholarship for best presentation, with funding from Alpharma. Eli Lilly and Company Foundation provided funding on behalf of Elanco Animal Health for four $2,500 scholarships, five $1,500 scholarships, and five $500 scholarships for the other student presenters.
Also during the AASV meeting, Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica announced recipients of the 2008 Advancement in PRRS Research Award. The company gave $25,000 grants to each of three PRRS researchers—Drs. Jim Lowe of Carthage Veterinary Service in Illinois, Paul Yeske of the Swine Vet Center in Minnesota, and Scott Dee of the University of Minnesota.
The 2008 AASV meeting attracted 932 attendees representing 28 countries, including 132 students from 23 universities. The AASV now counts 1,242 members, including 199 students.