May 01, 2016


 Outbreak preparation key for AASV president

Posted April 13, 2016

Dr. George Charbonneau sees opportunities for swine veterinarians to prepare for diseases and improve responses to outbreaks.

The veterinarian from White Lake, Ontario, started his one-year term as president of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians March 1. Dr. Alejandro “Alex” Ramirez, Ames, Iowa, is president-elect; Dr. C. Scanlon Daniels, Dalhart, Texas, is vice president; and Dr. Ron Brodersen, Hartington, Nebraska, is the immediate past president.

Among projects Dr. Charbonneau plans to juggle during his presidency, the most substantial is additional development of the Swine Health Information Center, a joint project among the AASV, National Pork Board, and National Pork Producers Council to provide disease information before and during outbreaks. The spring 2013 outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea, which killed millions of neonatal pigs, underscored that swine veterinarians needed better preparation ahead of disease emergence, he said.

Dr. George Charbonneau (Courtesy of AASV)

That includes, for example, understanding differences in how pathogens are transmitted among individual animals and farms, a problem illustrated by the difficulty in controlling spread of the PED virus. Veterinarians first tried using techniques adapted to the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus but found they were not well-suited for controlling spread of the PED virus.

The AASV’s leaders are considering how they can help member veterinarians further develop expertise on outbreak response, although Dr. Charbonneau said veterinarians in North America’s pork industries already are better prepared to respond to an emerging disease than they were in 2013. He noted that, when Seneca Valley virus emerged in the U.S. during summer 2015, the Swine Health Information Center was quick to assemble and distribute information about the disease and managing infections.

Also, U.S. pork exports are increasing, heightening the industry’s vulnerability to trade disruptions caused by disease, Dr. Charbonneau said. The AASV is involved in efforts to create a system for verifying during outbreaks that pork intended for export is safe and free of diseases of concern.

The U.S. exports about 20 percent of its pork. More than half of pork produced in Canada is exported, according to Canadian agriculture authorities, and Dr. Charbonneau estimated exports account for 70 percent of Canadian production.

“I think it’s fair to say that pretty much all of the diseases that are of interest to American swine veterinarians are equally of interest to our Canadian members,” he said.

Dr. Charbonneau also sees the potential of pending restrictions on antimicrobial access and use to increase the importance of some pathogens that have up to now been of little economic consequence.

“As the availability of antimicrobials is reduced, there may be some increasing challenges in controlling some of the bacterial diseases that are already present in North America,” he said.

The Food and Drug Administration has announced that, under agreements with pharmaceutical companies,  antimicrobials in drug classes used in human medicine will become unavailable for use in livestock feed or water for growth promotion or other production uses starting in December, and over-the-counter access will be removed.

Dr. Ron Brodersen passes the gavel to Dr. George Charbonneau March 1, the start of Dr. Charbonneau’s term as president of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. Dr. C. Scanlon Daniels (center left) became vice president, and Dr. Alejandro “Alex” Ramirez (center right) became president-elect. (Photo by Greg Cima)

Health Canada, too, announced in April 2015 that the agency had been working with pharmaceutical companies to phase out growth-promotion claims for antimicrobials important for human medicine by December 2016 and to increase veterinarian oversight requirements for access to such drugs used in livestock feed and water.

Dr. Charbonneau said restrictions on those drugs may require that veterinarians consider other means of controlling disease, such as through nutrition, environmental controls, and vaccine management. AASV leaders are considering the risk of bacterial pathogens in addition to viral threats.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s the most burning issue right now, but that’s where you need some leadership within the organization and identifying people with a passion about that subject,” he said.

Dr. Charbonneau wanted to become a veterinarian starting when he was about 12 years old and working on a mixed-animal farm in his hometown of Arnprior, Ontario, where he watched a veterinarian perform a cesarean section on a sow.

“I just thought that was about the coolest thing ever,” he said. “So, I pretty well set my sights on becoming a veterinarian at a pretty early age.”

He would graduate from the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College in 1981 and become president of the Ontario Association of Swine Veterinarians and Canadian Association of Swine Veterinarians as well as the founding chairman of the Ontario Pork Industry Council. He saw his involvement in the organizations as an opportunity to give back to the veterinary community and the pork industry.

“That gave me exposure to working with committees and working with other people,” Dr. Charbonneau said. “And, as per usual, I ended up getting more out of it than I ever put into it, so it’s been a great training experience to be involved with the organizations.”