USDA contributes 8.8m to livestock disease research

WASHINGTON, DC, April 15, 2004 (ENS): The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will contribute $8.8 million to two international research collaboratives seeking to control and eliminate Johne's disease in cattle, sheep and goats and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) in swine. Both research projects will be conducted over four years at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced the financial contributions on Wednesday, saying the two diseases cause more than $800 million a year in losses to the industry and the consuming public.

"These grants will support critical research, education and extension activities to develop practical applications against these diseases," said Veneman.

The two grants are the largest ever to be awarded for animal disease research by the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service.

PRRS first appeared in the United States in 1986 and is found worldwide and in all major swine producing areas of the United States. PRRS results in reproductive failure in adult females and pneumonia in nursing pigs and can lead to death. It spreads easily among herds.

Johne's disease (JD) is a chronic, infectious, wasting disease of cattle. Symptoms include chronic diarrhea and weight loss, decreased milk production, reduced fertility, and eventually death.

"An estimated 22 percent of all U.S. dairy herds are infected with Johne's disease," said the USDA in a statement announcing the grants, but the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine says "approximately 40 percent of all dairy farms in the United States are infected with the bacterium that causes JD."

Johne's disease results in "more than a billion dollars of economic loss every year," the university said. The impact is especially severe in larger dairy herds, and is estimated to cost up to $200 per year for each cow in the herd.

Several studies also suggest a link between the bacterium that causes JD and a severe autoimmune disease, Crohn’s disease, in humans.

The JD research project is led by Vivek Kapur, BVSc, Ph.D., professor of microbiology at the Medical School and co-director of the University’s Biomedical Genomics Center. A total of 72 researchers from 23 other universities, state and federal governmental agencies, and stakeholder groups such as the National Milk Producers Federation and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association will participate.

The research goals are to understand how JD is transmitted, to develop new diagnostic tools to track the disease in herds, to study how JD progresses, and to develop a vaccine or methods of boosting herd immunity.

“PRRS is, by far, the most significant disease affecting swine,” said Michael Murtaugh, Ph.D., principal investigator and professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine.“We are working with the swine producers, veterinarians and allied industries to maximize the resources available to solve this problem and reach our ultimate goal – eliminating PRRS regionally, if not nationally.”

"Project collaborators include more than 100 scientists and education experts from two dozen institutions in 20 states as well as experts in Canada, Mexico, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia," said Joseph Jen, USDA undersecretary for research, education, and economics.

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