Hog producers faced a tense period when Indiana’s two main pork-packing plants, Tyson at Logansport and Indiana Packers at Delphi, shut down temporarily after a significant number of workers tested positive for COVID-19. The Indiana State Board of Animal Health was involved in helping packers and producers work through the situation.
Denise Derrer, public information director for BOAH, looks back at how the process unfolded, and points to lessons the livestock industry can take forward, should other disruptions occur in the future:
BOAH is very good at learning lessons from past events — as in the turkey problem a few years ago. What will you learn from this experience that will help going forward? The pandemic provided so many lessons! The large packer closures meant that hogs had no market to move to off the farm. On the surface, this scenario is similar to what could play out if African swine fever or another foreign animal disease were found in the United States.
USDA officials are frequently referring to a 72-hour stop-movement plan that would be initiated with a diagnosis. The point of the halt is to give regulatory and veterinary officials a short time to “catch up” on disease traces and surveillance without causing further spread of the disease.
While the COVID-related stop went on much longer than 72 hours on many farms, the situation nicely illustrates some of the consequences that could arise from a major market disruption.
One of the biggest lessons for the hog sector is the need for every individual producer to have a specific plan for what to do if hogs cannot be shipped. Also, if depopulation must occur, what is the disposal plan? Both tasks require a lot of thought, planning and coordination to accomplish in a way that is humane for the animals and safe for the workers.
Could you elaborate on what you mean by a “72-hour plan”? Hogs would not be shipped to packers during this period, correct? Correct. USDA has proposed a 72-hour stop-movement on hogs in the case of a high-consequence disease event, such as African swine fever.
The point is to allow some time for the epidemiology to catch up and get some testing and surveillance going.
What happens on hour 73 is still uncertain. This is still very much a discussion in the planning stage, so it’s hard to say “what’s next” for that scenario. It could vary based on the disease, where it is or isn’t found, and what each state wants to do.
If producers must euthanize pigs, does that become an issue involving BOAH? If so, how? The main concern for BOAH is that any method of euthanasia is humane and meets the standards set by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
During the pandemic event, some states have been called upon to assist farmers with reducing the size of herds. In Indiana, BOAH, to date, has not been asked to do this.
BOAH did develop a plan to address depopulation and disposal. So far, producers have made adjustments on the farm without assistance from BOAH. The fact that the state’s two major packers weren’t closed for an extended period and the plants in our border states have remained operational alleviated some of the pressure in Indiana.