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PEDv Swine Virus Has Killed 7 Million Pigs In Past Year And Is Pushing Up Pork Prices

  • Mary Nichols , Design & Trend Contributor
  • May, 05, 2014, 03:39 PM
Tags : pork, Virus, pig, science
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PEDv Virus
(Photo : REUTERS/Scott Audette) The virus has killed an estimated seven million pigs in the past year.

A virus that has wiped out as many as seven million pigs in the United States in the last year is also pushing pork prices to record highs, writes National Geographic. 

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PEDv, has already killed 10 per cent of the country's pigs, according to National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) estimates. 

Howard Hill, president of the NPPC, told National Geographic, the loss of sick and dying piglets have been "heartbreaking". 

Adult hogs usually recover from the virus after a few days, and mothers eventually build up resistance to the disease, writes National Geographic. 

Once sows develop resistance, they no longer pass the disease to their offspring. But that process can take three weeks to a month, and during that time, the newborn piglets die.

The virus has sparked outrage and controversy in the U.S. after a video emerged in February that showed what the Humane Society called a "piglet smoothie" made from infected animals being fed to sows at a farm in Kentucky.  

NPR's The Salt reported, "Hog farmers and veterinarians say that while feeding the guts (or stool) of dead piglets back to sows may sound icky, it's the only option they've got to keep the dreaded PEDV from decimating herds and the whole of the U.S. hog supply."

Greg Lear, a hog producer near Spencer, Iowa, told n the disease showed up in his barns on December 21 last year, and he and his employees were soon overwhelmed.

"It was about 850 little pigs that didn't make it," he says. "For three weeks, it was 100 percent death. It was really tough."

PEDv first appeared in the United States in Ohio last May, and has since spread to 30 states. 

Rodney Baker, a swine biosecurity specialist at Iowa State University in Ames, told Reuters "a tablespoon of PEDv-infected manure is roughly enough to infect the entire U.S. hog herd."

"It just scares the tar out of you how much of this virus is out there and how easily it can be spread," Greg Lear, a hog producer near Spencer, Iowa, told National Geographic. 

France, China and Japan have placed "temporary restrictions" on the import of live pigs, pork-based byproducts and pig sperm from the United States, to prevent the spread of the virus to their swine industries.

Health experts say the virus is highly unlikely to pose a direct threat to humans. 

However, Christopher Olsen, a professor of public health at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and Juergen Richt, a distinguished professor of veterinary medicine at Kansas State University in Lawrence, say PEDv is part of a family of coronaviruses (including SARS respiratory virus) that have jumped from an animal host to a human host.

"This disease has been around for more than 40 years in pigs in Europe, Asia, and now the United States, and there has been no evidence that anyone working with the pigs in any of that time has caught the disease," says Richt.

Researchers are unsure how the disease got into United States, although some speculate it may have been carried by dried blood added to pig food as a protein supplement.

"We need to understand in detail how it came here in order to protect our pig herd from other diseases that are even more dangerous." Richt told National Geographic.   

PEDv does not make pork unsafe to eat, according to health experts, writes National Geographic. 

 It attacks the gastrointestinal tracts of pigs, not the meat.

Cooking kills the virus in any case, Olsen told National Geographic. 

The virus is making pork more expensive, however.

The NPPC believes pork prices could rise 10 to 12 percent.

Meat prices have generally been high recently, partly due to the ongoing drought through the West, as well as high animal-feed prices.

Hog farmers could actually come out ahead, writes National Geographic.   

A testimony prepared by NPPC president Hill, who sat before a House agricultural panel Wednesday, said the industry could enjoy perhaps its best year ever financially.

"Producers on average get compensated for their losses by high prices," Chris Hurt, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, told National Geographic.

"The real cost of the disease is borne by consumers."

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