FAIRMONT - As 2009 dawned, biosecurity was commonly thought to have something to do with chemical weapons in far-off countries, but the fast-spreading H1N1 flu virus opened many eyes to biosecurity issues closer to home.
As the pandemic influenza virus spread around the world, news outlets and health organizations alike nicknamed it "swine flu," much to the distress of pork producers nationwide, who were forced into crisis mode when pork sales plummeted as consumers erroneously concluded it was not safe to eat.
Researchers soon determined the flu had nothing to do with hogs, and was being passed only person to person. Although the damage had been done to the swine industry's image, the media began referring to the virus more accurately as H1N1.
Flu cases continued to spread around the country and world, but business continued as usual at hog-production facilities.
Until a pig worker in Alberta, Canada, reported for duty with flu-like symptoms and, apparently, infected the herd.
Reuters news agency reported in May the first documented case of human-to-hog H1N1 transmission at a 2,500-head facility. None of the animals died from the virus.
Since then, the pressure has been on for farmers to utilize biosecurity methods to keep their animals safe.
"The biggest fear as hog producers we have right now is that one of our workers will bring something to the herd," said Bill Crawford, member of the Minnesota Pork Board.
Crawford said all farms in Martin County have had biosecurity measures in place for years, but the National Pork Board has issued statements urging all producers to take "extra precaution" with security because of the novel status of the virus.
Trudy Wastweet, assistant executive director of Minnesota Pork Producers, said it is these measures that keep the animals, and our food, safe.
"Vigilant biosecurity practices on farms result in healthy, thriving pigs," she said.
Measures recommended by the Pork Board include;
o Establishing and enforcing strict sick-leave policies for workers, restricting employee contact with animals for seven days after even a mild respiratory illness;
o Restricting farm access to workers who have traveled internationally, specifically to Mexico, or requiring facemasks and gloves for those employees;
o Limiting visitors to swine facilities to workers and essential service personnel;
o Enforcing basic hygiene practices.
Currently, there are no reported cases of hogs infected with the H1N1 virus in the United States, but as nearly 18,000 cases of the flu have been identified in American citizens, the threat is clearly present.
To help producers remind the public that the farm is not open to anyone, the Minnesota Pork Board is offering free signage.
"We protect pigs from disease by excluding birds, rodents and other animals from barns," Wastweet said. " That's also why visitors are limited at farms - people can expose pigs to disease too."