Virus wreaking havoc on pork industry

By Stephanie Strom / New York Times News Service

Published Jul 5, 2014 at 12:01AM

The bodies are piling up fast.

A deadly virus, porcine epidemic diarrhea, or PEDv, is estimated to have killed, on average, more than 100,000 piglets and young hogs each week since it first showed up in Iowa in May 2013, wreaking havoc on the pork industry.

The number of hogs slaughtered this year is down 4.2 percent, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department, to roughly 50 million from more than 52 million in the same period in 2013.

That drop drove up the price of bacon and center-cut pork chops sold in the United States more than 12 percent in May, compared with the same period a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I’ve been a vet since 1981, and there is no precedent for this,” said Paul Sundberg, vice president for science and technology at the National Pork Board. “It is devastatingly virulent.”

The fatality numbers are so staggering that environmentalists have grown worried about the effects of state laws requiring the burial of so many carcasses, and what that will do to the groundwater.

“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,” said Kelly Foster, senior lawyer at the Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental group.

The USDA said that as of May 28, nearly 7,000 samples submitted from 30 states to labs tested positive for the virus.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently pledged $26.2 million for a variety of efforts to fight the virus.