Virus kills 100,000 pigs and piglets each week, drives up pork prices

BY Xander Landen  July 5, 2014 at 4:43 PM EST
This sow's five pigs developed from cryopreserved and surgically transferred embryos. Photo by Keith Weller.

Since May of 2013, 100,000 piglets and young hogs have died each week at the hands of the lethal disease, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PEDv. Credit: Keith Weller via Wikimedia Commons.

Since May of 2013, more than 100,000 piglets and young hogs have died on average each week from the lethal disease, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PEDv.

The New York Times reports that the number of pigs slaughtered by the pork industry this year is 4.2 percent less than average because of spread of the disease.

The disease has influenced pork prices across the nation. Bacon now costs 15 percent more than it did last May and the cost of pork chops is up 13 percent.

Although the disease is being studied, scientists are still unsure about how PEDv spreads, or how it originated. This puts farmers under threat according to Michael Yezzi, who raises hogs in Shushan, NY, and was interviewed for a report by NPR.

“They don’t know where this disease is coming from,” he told NPR. “Even closed operations that aren’t getting pigs from the outside have gotten this, even with the strictest biosecurity situations. So everybody’s at risk.”

Beyond the issues the disease has created for farmers and the pork industry, environmentalists are concerned about the body count PEDv  leaves behind.

In an interview with the Times, Kelly Foster, senior lawyer with the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance, said the number of pigs being buried could be dangerous for humans.

“We know there is a lot of mortality from this disease, and we’re seeing evidence of burial in areas with shallow groundwater that a lot of people rely on for drinking water and recreation,” she said.

While humans can’t be infected by the virus, there are concerns that an excess of decomposing pigs underground could give harmful bacteria or pathogens a place to grow and an opportunity to get into water supplies.

As the disease has spread, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken steps to try to stop PEDv from taking a greater toll on the nation’s pigs and piglets.

In June, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack began requiring farmers to report new cases of PEDv to the USDA and pledged $26 million to help prevent it.

Federal dollars are being spent on the development of a new vaccine for the virus, as well as improved biosecurity practices for farms throughout the U.S.