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Dr. Gordon Spronk and Dr. Jon De Jong: Biosecurity in pig feed

November 4, 2019

Viruses from feed can infect pigs with foreign animal diseases. What can biosecurity measures can be taken to mitigate these viruses on farms?

With the rise of foreign animal diseases like African swine fever, mitigating the risk of viruses spreading through feed has become a massive challenge for pig producers today. Dr. Gordon Spronk and Dr. Jon De Jong of Pipestone System detail their research on biosecurity measures in feed to reduce risk on farm.

The following is an edited transcript of Kara Keeton's interview with Dr. Gordon Spronk and Dr. Jon De Jong. Click below to hear the full audio. 

Kara:              I'm here today with Dr. Gordon Spronk and Dr. Jon De Jong with Pipestone, and we're going to talk today about animal nutrition and health. Gentlemen, thank you for joining me today.


Gordon:          You're welcome. Thank you for inviting us to be here.


Kara:              Lovely. Give me the lay of the land right now. We know biosecurity issues are a massive challenge for pig producers at this time. What diseases are most prevalent and where are they impacting pigs on a global scale?


Gordon:          Well, thanks for the question. In pig production, the healthiest pigs grow the fastest and make the most money for their owner, our farmer producers. Biosecurity — sometimes, we make it too complicated, when, at its simplest, we want farms that produce pigs that don't have viruses and that don't have bacteria.


                        Specifically, there are a number of viruses in our North American herd that we've successfully either eliminated or kept out. There's some rise with African swine fever, which is the hot topic right now, foot and mouth disease, hog cholera and pseudorabies. Those four viruses are all classified as foreign animal diseases. We do not have those four viruses in the North American herd, and we hope to keep them out of our North American herd for the benefit of not only our pig farmers but all of agriculture.


Kara:              We were talking about African swine fever and biosecurity on the farm. How does feed and biosecurity play on the farm?


Jon:                Pipestone has been active in biosecurity interventions ever since I was a graduate in 1981, where, at that time, we washed our boots before we went to a farm. Well, from that day to this day, there's a lot of things we do at a farm to prevent disease or pathogen entrance. Today, we filter farms. We spend millions of dollars on HEPA filters to prevent virus introduction to a farm. All employees shower in. We wash all our trucks. We dry all our trucks. We make sure that all the supplies that are delivered to the farm are delivered from a biosecure warehouse and are quarantined on the farm.


                        The point is we have many steps already that we've taken with biosecurity. Now, we're just simply adding feed to this biosecurity portfolio. Because, before PED in 2013, it was never even considered as a potential risk to the farm. So, we're very excited that we continue to add preventative measures, add interventions that are a part of biosecurity to a farm to make our farmers more money and our pigs healthier.


Kara:              You're co-founder of the Pipestone system, a pig production. What is that? As well, what is the role of Pipestone in the swine industry?


Gordon:          Sure. Well, at Pipestone, we're active in four areas. We're active in animal health, we're active in nutrition. That's why Jon is here today. We're active in management, and we're active in marketing.


                        The management part is, 30 years ago, we started managing sow farms for farmers. They wanted a source of weaned pigs; we had the ability to help them meet that need by not only building and designing and running farms, but also going through the whole process of stocking the farm and making sure that, even at the disease level, we stocked the farm with the viruses we just talked about. We've been active in that space for 30 years in meeting the direct need of our farmer owners.


Kara:              So, the biosecurity issues are not new to Pipestone.


Gordon:          There's nothing new here. We learned long ago that keeping viruses out made our farmers more money. So, biosecurity is all about keeping viruses and bacteria out.


Kara:              And keeping the farmers happy and the pigs healthy.


Gordon:          Well, our mission statement is “helping farmers today create the farms of tomorrow.” Well, the farm of tomorrow may not have those viruses or those bacteria so that their pigs are healthier.


Kara:              Exactly. That is wonderful. Now, recently, you have collaborated with Alltech on a new set of research and products and development initiatives. Why was that important to you, and what new opportunities does Alltech bring to the table for Pipestone?


Gordon:          Yeah, I'm going to turn it over to Jon here in just a second. If you look at the whole portfolio of protecting a farm with biosecurity, until 2013, feed was not part of that formula, not part of that thought process. Well, PED taught us that maybe that virus is moving around in other ways that we normally would have put interventions in place. In other words, it could have been coming through feed or feed ingredients. That PED experience then also allowed us to make observations in China, because we're active in China, so we know how that virus is moving around in the field. That led us to say that, “Listen, maybe we should put interventions in place in feed,” and that's where I'll turn it over to Jon, as a nutritionist, to help explain that intervention in feed to prevent the movement of virus in feed and feed ingredients.


Jon:                Yeah, thank you, Gordon. Just like Gordon mentioned, for 20 or 40 or 50 years, we've fine-tuned and worked on the biosecurity measures at our farms, and really, the final piece that we think was missing was the feed. PED taught us a lot in 2014. We realized that virus can transmit itself via the feed, and, at the time, we weren't doing a single thing about it.


                        So, at that point, Pipestone, with our research team and Dr. Scott Dee, took it upon ourselves to, one, understand: is feed a vector for virus? And, as Scott proved very quickly, that, yes, we can infect pigs with virus through the feed. And then the second part was, okay, we know the virus can infect pigs when you feed it to them. Now, how do we stop it? So that's taken on a whole ’nother world for the Pipestone system and a lot of other researchers in the U.S. today, is how do we stop viruses from either, one, getting into the feed, or, once they get into the feed, how do we mitigate them and stop them from infecting pigs?


                        That's where we started working with a number of products. One we developed ourselves called APC, that product, we spent the last three or four years researching, trying to develop it, understand the inclusion rates and make sure that the product was efficacious against the viruses that we knew of at the time, PEDv. And then, for the first time ever, we were able to show that PRRS, typically known as an aerosolized virus — we filter our farms, filter the air that goes in them, specifically because of that one virus — but Dr. Dee was able to prove and show for the first time ever that it can have transmission in the feed as well. So, we know that the product, the APC, now is capable of mitigating both PEDv and PRRS in the feed.


Kara:              Now, the product again that you mentioned, what exactly is it?


Jon:                APC.


Kara:              APC. What exactly is that product?


Jon:                Yeah, so APC is a blend of different products, mainly organic acids with some essential oils blended with it, a product that's shown over a number of research trials, both in the lab as well in a bioassay setting, where we actually feed the virus to the pigs. We've shown over a number of studies that it's a product capable of mitigating the effect of viruses in feed.


Kara:              That's amazing. What other new technologies are you working on with Alltech and on your own at Pipestone that can help ensure that the quality of feed and the feed ingredients are at the quality they need to be for the swine operations and to help mitigate virus issues?


Jon:                Yeah, absolutely. One, we want to work with Alltech to make sure that the product they've acquired from us, APC, is up to snuff, that it continues to be the most researched product in the market. And then, on top of that, not only can we mitigate feed, but there's a number of other steps that we can take. So, I think Pipestone has really tried to lead the way in the industry in terms of, how are we bringing in, specifically, ingredients from countries that have virus in them? We know for a fact today that a lot of our feed ingredients — amino acids, vitamins and trace minerals — they come from countries that are infected with ASF. That's, for us, a huge concern.


                        I would say (that there was) no smoking gun in 2014 that PEDv was brought in on feed ingredients. But our group would say there was some substantial evidence that would point us in that direction. So, really, Dr. Dee and our team has just poured into the research over the last six months, really, since the outbreak was mentioned or happened in China, and really needed to validate three things. One, can ASF survive in feed ingredients during the importation process? Does it survive the trip over the ocean? That was step one, and we were able to show, along with a number of other viruses, that a lot of those viruses will survive the journey in a feed ingredient like amino acids or soybean meal. So, step one, yep, check. The virus survives the trip across the Pacific to Des Moines. That was part of Scott's transboundary research that he conducted last year.


                        The second step, which Kansas State was able to find out here very recently, in the last 60 days, is when the virus is in feed and you feed it to pigs, do they become infected? And what is the minimum infectious dose? So, Kansas State was able to now show that, yup, if you put the virus in the feed or the virus is present in the feed, you feed it to pigs, they can become infected with African swine fever. Really, we've been able to complete that loop of, yes, there's virus present in China, where we know we import a lot of ingredients; yes, it survives the trip across the Pacific; and yes, if it would get to a pig, that it can become infected. So, really, just going through and validating those three things were very important to us.


                        The last thing we've been able to do is, working with SHIC and the AFIA, is to understand, okay, if we bring an ingredient into the U.S., how long do we need to keep it in quarantine before it may be safe to feed to the pigs? Still working through those exact numbers; I know there's some time periods that are out there. I think more time is better. When you're dealing with viruses and bacteria, time is on your side. So, quarantining those ingredients for longer periods of time is, we know, going to be a good thing.


Kara:              So, there is hope that you can kill the virus by putting it in quarantine for a certain period.


Jon:                Yeah, and Gordon and I were just talking about this this morning. There are three things we've really done. One, you have to make sourcing decisions. Where are you going to source your ingredients from? And, at the end of the day, price is king to a lot of folks, and so we still end up bringing some ingredients in. You can only get certain ingredients from countries infected with ASF. So, one, you can make sourcing changes or decisions.


                        The second thing is, okay, let's quarantine those ingredients when we get them to the U.S. And then the third thing is mitigation. What can we add to the feed as a last step of defense to protect those pigs from getting infected?


Kara:              It's obvious that the swine industry will never go back to being small-scale, locally sourced feed options. So, we're going to continue to face global issues when it comes to viruses and feed sources and within the swine industry. What are the implications of new technologies to promote feed safety productions, safe pig production? Is there anything that you're working on beyond this right now that you hope to see come to fruition in the near future?


Jon:                Yeah, I think a couple of things that Pipestone specifically has been working on. One is how do we responsibly import ingredients? We understand it's a global market. We're going to have to bring things across borders, both pigs and feed ingredients. How do we do that in a responsible manner? So, we're really trying to set the protocol today and implement it, and what does responsible importation look like? That's one.


                        The second thing in the responsible import process is, how can we verify that the things we're requesting these vendors and suppliers do, how can we verify that they're actually getting done? The potential to certify certain suppliers, distributors, blenders to make sure that we are what we call responsible, doing things the right way when those products are coming into the U.S.


Kara:              So, it is wonderful to have companies like Pipestone be proactive in this effort and continue the work in research. Do you see this being, long-term, biosecurity being a major issue for Pipestone in the future and as changes continue in the industry?


Gordon:          I think it's an opportunity for both Pipestone and Alltech, and we're very pleased to be partnering with Alltech on a product like this, that the feed industry is embracing what, prior to PED, no one — including veterinarians, owners and the feed industry — did not think feed was a risk. And now, it's being recognized as not only a risk, but now, we need to put interventions in place to either mitigate that risk or just take it out completely.


                        So, I'm very pleased in that the future is bright as we do more and more research. I think we're just scratching the surface of what can be done in this area to not only impact the feed safety, to have healthier pigs, but also to impact in nutritional content so that these pigs grow faster and make more money for our farmer owners.


Kara:              This research and development is not just limited to the swine industry. This carries over to other industries.


Gordon:          It could impact other species. Right.


Jon:                Absolutely. And just like Gordon said, I think we're truly at the tip of this iceberg in regards to feed biosecurity. We look at all the assets we have across the United States and other countries, these feed mills that we're building and have been built. The last thing on anybody's mind when we were putting these assets together was biosecurity. So, I think, all the way back to how we build the feed mills moving forward, biosecurity is going to be at least on the list, where, even five years ago, it wasn't on anyone's radar.


Kara:              Well, thank you, gentlemen, for taking the time today to talk to me about Pipestone, the partnership with Alltech and nutrition and health and biosecurity in the swine industry. Again, this was Dr. Gordon Spronk and Dr. Jon De Jong with Pipestone. Thank you, gentlemen.


Gordon:          Thank you.


Jon:                Thank you.



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