Virus changes fair landscape: Pig breed show will not be held this year

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Wednesday, February 19, 2014

JANESVILLE—A pig disease will change this year's Rock County 4-H Fair, but it's unlikely the public will notice.

Last week, the Wisconsin state veterinarian banned spring fair pig weigh-ins and recommended that all pigs that attend the fair be slaughtered because of concerns regarding the spread of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus—which is as awful as it sounds.

On Tuesday night, the Rock County 4-H Fair Board voted not to hold the breed show for pigs.

The breed show is for boars and gilts. Boars are uncastrated male pigs and gilts are female pigs that will be used as breeding stock. Because the animals are breeding stock, they return home after the show.

However, anytime two or three pigs are gathered together for a show, there's a chance that porcine epidemic diarrhea could spread.

The virus causes diarrhea, vomiting and severe dehydration in hogs, according to a news release from the state veterinarian's office.

Although only six cases have been found in Wisconsin, industry analysts estimate that between 1 million and 4 million swine have died from the disease since it was discovered in the U.S. pig population in 2013, the news release said.

The breed show is usually held on the Monday before the start of the Rock County 4-H Fair. As such, the show usually is attended only by exhibitors and their families.

Fair board President John Quinn estimated about 20 pigs were in last year's breed show.

The regular show, which is held during fair week, features barrows, male castrated pigs raised for meat. Those pigs usually are sold at the meat animal sale and then butchered. In some cases, however, barrows return home with their owners, Quinn said.

This year, that will not be allowed. The fair will become a “terminal show,” meaning that all pigs shown at the fair must go into the sale and be slaughtered.

In addition, the weigh-in for pigs, which usually takes place in the spring, will not be held this year. Again, the state veterinarian's office is worried about the "co-mingling" of pigs.

State Veterinarian Dr. Paul McGraw has said the disease is not transmissible to humans but can result in serious financial loss for producers.

Quinn, too, stressed that the virus will not harm consumers of pork.

“We're not doing this for the fair, we're doing this for the pork industry,” Quinn said.

Although the virus cannot harm humans, the stigma could attach itself to the product.

“That could hurt the pork industry, too,” Quinn said.

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