The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 4, 2013

Nicollet hog breeder sues USDA over disease testing

By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer

NICOLLET — An international pork producer based in Nicollet County has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture claiming poor disease testing at an Iowa lab has kept the business from selling hogs to China.

The lawsuit filed by Compart’s Boar Store, a family-owned hog breeding  company north of Nicollet and west of St. Peter, says the company will lose more than $3.4 million in Chinese business. That income will be lost because faulty testing at the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, resulted in Compart’s being barred from exporting to China for two years, according to a complaint filed in federal court last month. The laboratories are overseen by the Department of Agriculture.

Chinese buyers traveled to Compart’s facilities in 2011 to inspect the business’ breeding stock. At that time those buyers selected about 30 male hogs and about 300 female hogs to be shipped to China in August, the complaint said. Those animals were then isolated and they were tested for diseases.

Blood samples from all of the hogs sent to the Ames laboratories in July with a request that the samples be tested for the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, also known as blue-ear pig disease. The virus is contagious and can spread rapidly, so farms exporting to China are required to be free of the virus for two years.

Two different tests are completed during the quarantine. All of the hogs are tested using one type of test and a minimum of 10 percent of the hogs are tested using a second test known as the virus isolation test.

The first test of the 350 Compart’s hogs showed they were all negative for PRRS. When the virus isolation test was done on 50 of the hogs, the results came up as “inconclusive” for 10 of them.

 Compart’s is claiming the inconclusive results were based on poor testing and a misinterpretation of observations of the results by staff at the National Veterinary Services Laboratories.

Employees at Compart’s drew additional blood samples from the hogs that had the inconclusive results to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Two other types of tests were done that the business said are “more advanced and accurate” than the virus isolation test. The results from both tests from all 10 hogs were negative for PRRS.

The results were given to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories, but the agency wouldn’t change its findings.

 Veterinarians also inspected the Compart’s isolation area and the 10 hogs on Aug. 15, 2011, and also concluded the animals had no PRRS symptoms. The laboratory still didn’t change its results.

New blood samples were sent to the laboratories Aug. 16, 2011. Tests on those samples showed the animals were negative for PRRS, but those results weren’t released until Oct. 13, 2011, the complaint said.

 By that time the August shipment had been rejected. Compart’s also had been added to the Chinese government’s list of businesses barred from exporting swine to China for two years. The lawsuit also claims the inconclusive samples were retested, but the National Veterinary Services Laboratories has refused to provide those results to Compart’s.

Staff at the laboratories should have done a better job of analyzing the results or continued testing until the results were either positive or negative, according to the complaint.

As a result of the poor testing procedures, Compart’s lost $238,096 for the August 2011 shipment and nearly $3.2 million more as a result of being placed on the Chinese export blacklist for two years.

Compart’s is suing the USDA through the Federal Tort Claims Act. The act requires entities that are filing lawsuits against the government to first file a claim with the agency involved. The Compart’s lawsuit said the business filed a claim with the USDA in March. The business received notice Dec. 3 that the claim had been denied, the complaint said.

Jim Compart, one of the business’ owners, said the family can’t comment about the lawsuit at this point.