TORONTO - Officials are deciding whether or not to slaughter a herd of pigs infected with porcine epidemic diarrhea virus at a hog farm in southwestern Ontario after the Canada Food Inspection Agency confirmed the outbreak Friday.
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture received word from the federal agency's lab in Winnipeg confirming what provincial officials had suspected on Thursday.
"No decisions have been made as of yet regarding depopulation of the herd," said ministry spokesman Mark Cripps. "They'll be working with the vet on scene (if they decide) to begin a process of depopulating the herd."
Meanwhile, Premier Kathleen Wynne — who is also Ontario's agriculture minister — assured consumers there was no danger in eating pork.
"The reality is that pork products are safe," she said. "This is not a human health issue. This is strictly an animal health issue."
Ontario is working closely with the federal food inspection agency and farmers to contain the spread of the PED virus, which has already killed millions of piglets in the U.S., added Wynne.
"Every precaution is being taken," she said. "This is an issue that pork producers in the United States have been dealing with for some time."
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz echoed Wynne's reassurances about the safety of eating pork products, and said it's not surprising the virus has shown up in this country.
"It was a matter of time, when you have the number of hogs infected in the U.S., it was only a matter of time until something popped up in Canada," Ritz said in Camrose, Alta.
"There is no health safety risk to humans. This is something that can be controlled and can be addressed, and the Ontario government and chief veterinary officer are in charge of that."
There are no immediate worries about any problems exporting pork products following the first confirmed case of PED in Canada, added Ritz.
"Not at this time," he said. "We've never heard concerns in that regard from any of our trading partners."
Government officials have not identified the farm where the pigs are infected with PED, but they confirmed it's located in Middlesex County, near London, Ont.
"For privacy reasons we are not going to be talking about exactly where the farm is," Wynne said. "The reality is it's in Ontario and we take it very seriously."
There are no indications the virus has spread elsewhere in Ontario, added Wynne.
"At this point there is one herd that has been infected," she said.
The premier admitted PED is a "highly infectious" virus.
"There is no cure for it at this point," said Wynne. "We're working with the veterinarians to make sure that we use the best science to decide what needs to be done, and quarantine at this point has not been put in place."
Ontario's chief veterinarian, Dr. Greg Douglas, said the infected farm is "under control" and its owner is co-operating with officials.
A group representing Ontario's hog industry warned its members that the virus can be transmitted by anything contaminated by manure.
Ontario Pork recommends producers keep trucks and truckers off their property until they have been properly washed and disinfected.
"We are in conversation and working very closely with Ontario pork producers to make sure that we do the washing down of the trucks," said Wynne.
"We will work with them to make sure that any other bio-security issues that need to be addressed are addressed."
_ with files from Jennifer Graham