With significant budget cutbacks occurring in swine research at USDA as well as university Extension departments all across the country, the research conducted by the National Pork Board (NPB), with funding from Pork Checkoff, is growing in importance.

In an interview with Pork Network, Paul Sundberg, DVM, NPB vice president, science and technology, describes the research funding process as well as NPB’s primary research program areas. In addition, Sundberg describes the importance of influenza surveillance and animal identification efforts.

Q: What research areas are funded by Pork Checkoff?

A: Our science and technology research is conducted in six main areas including swine health, food safety and nutrition, environment, animal welfare, animal science and production and producer and public health. In addition, research is conducted on increasing sow lifetime productivity by 30 percent in 7 years. The program is focused and targeted to specific objectives.

Q: What is the budget for research?

A: While research funding varies somewhat each year, Pork Checkoff invests about $5 million each year on research. A committee of producers heads all six program areas, sets research priorities and estimates the cost for the programs they believe are required. It is then the responsibility of the 15-member Pork Board to determine where funding is allocated.  

Q: Are you concerned about dwindling research budgets at the national and state levels?

A: Yes. One way we address shrinking research budgets is to assure all the efforts undertaken by our research partners is well-coordinated so we avoid duplication whenever possible. For example, we meet yearly with USDA researchers who work on swine-related programs to update them on our industry’s priorities and coordinate our work.

Q: What is the participation level among producers in the influenza surveillance program?

A: The program develops vital information to help manage influenza on our farms. The influenza surveillance project is highly coordinated with USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. This has been an excellent example of cooperation to address a very important issue to pork producers as well as public health.

Producers can be confident that, except in a true public health emergency, the system does not link the information gathered by the program to any specific farm. If a producer has questions about the program, I would suggest they ask their veterinarian.

Meanwhile, biosecurity at the farm level along with rapid disease detection and response are critical to prevent and control influenza in animals as well as address related aspects of human health. We strongly recommend all farm workers to get the seasonal flu vaccine and, if you have flu symptoms, stay out of the barns for one week after fever subsides. Have a plan ready for someone else to step in to take over for anyone who is ill.

Ask your veterinarian about immunization programs for the animals and if an outbreak occurs, treatment should be initiated as soon as possible.

Q: Is the animal identification where it needs to be in the country?

A: With U.S. pork exports exceeding 25 percent of U.S. pork production, our ability in rapid disease detection and response is vital for the sustainability of pork demand in export markets as well as domestic markets. It is very important for each producer to have an official premises identification number and to have the number on official tags for all animals in the breeding herd.

The achievement by pork producers in this area has been a major success. We are more prepared than ever but there is always more to do. It requires constant vigilance in animal traceability to maintain our readiness for responding to a foreign animal disease or a domestic swine disease.

Another important effort we pay close attention to is identifying emerging risks in foreign countries and to devote resources in order to address the risk. A couple recent examples include the high-pathogenic PRRS outbreak in China and African Swine Fever outbreaks in Eastern Europe and Russia. We sent research teams and veterinarians to these areas to learn what measures are being employed to prepare for the unlikely possibility of the disease occurring in the United States.

We work hard at predicting what may happen down the road so we can maximize a producer’s opportunity for profit as well as consumer confidence.