A virus that first appeared in April 2013 has now killed over seven million pigs in the United States, pushing pork prices to record levels.
The virus, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv), had spread to farms in 22 states by January of this year, despite farmers’ best efforts to stop it.
In January, Mike Brandherm, a general manager with Hitch Pork Producers in Guymon, OK, said, “This is the toughest disease we’ve ever gone through.” Hitch lost 30,000 piglets in just six weeks when its operations were hit in 2013.
By March of 2014, the industry was reporting the loss of five million pigs since May of 2013.
Now, as April begins to wind down, pork producers are reporting up to seven million dead pigs due to PEDv, and authorities report that there is neither a cure nor a reliable way to stop the virus from spreading.
The virus is extremely virulent, too. As Rodney “Butch” Baker, swine biosecurity specialist at Iowa State University, told Reuters, “Something like a tablespoon of PEDv infected manure is roughly enough to infect the entire U.S. hog herd.”
Pork prices have soared to a record $3.83 per pound as more piglets die every week.
The industry has already spent $1.7 million researching the virus, but so far they have no clue where the sickness originated, though a virus that was almost identical to the one hitting U.S. farms coursed through China in 2012.
Last year, Smithfield Foods, whose brands include Armour and Farmland and is the world’s largest pork producer with annual sales of $13 billion, was sold to China’s biggest meat processor, Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. The $7.1 billion deal was the largest takeover of a U.S. company by a Chinese firm.
One thing scientists have discovered is that the virus thrives in cold weather, so this past harsh winter may have boosted its presence in the country.
But so far, no vaccine has been able to completely protect pigs from PEDv, though some small progress has been made.
The industry has initiated precautionary measures, such as stricter cleanliness, limiting visitors to facilities, and a regime for farmers that includes changing clothing and boots, as well as using disposable coverings. “The extra washing, drying and disinfecting can consume at least two hours and cost up to $500 per load,” industry sources reported to Reuters.
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