Virus killing millions of pigs expected to drive up pork price

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus has killed an estimated 6.5 million baby pigs

A virus, new to the US, has killed an estimated 6.5 million pigs over the last year and experts expect it will drive the price of pork products up this summer.

The virus is called porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED). It’s affecting baby pigs because their immune systems aren’t strong enough to fight off the disease.

The National Council of Pork Producers estimates 1.3 million pigs died from PED in January, which is about 12 percent of the pigs that would have been sent to market in July. With no known cure, bringing home the bacon might cost a lot more this summer.

West Salem farmer Michael Gilster feels fortunate the PED virus hasn’t visited his farm. Because if it does, the virus can spread quickly.

“If you get it in your barn it’s 100 percent mortality rate for all your little babies. So you do not want to get it,” Gilster said.

PED can spread in many different ways.

“It can be moved by contact through the manure and feces from animal-to-animal, through the milk, or possibly just being tracked from place to place by us as humans,” Steve Huntzicker, La Crosse County UW-Extension Agriculture Expert, said.

Which is why Gilster said he’s taking extra precautions to keep the virus away from his pigs.

“Bio-security is very important. If you go to any other farms you do not want to be wearing those clothes back to your farm. Being clean is very important,” Gilder said.

Cases of the PED virus have been found in 27 states including Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Because it’s so contagious, precautions need to be taken at events like county fairs.

“There was a recommendation to have terminal show at the fair this year, which will happen in this county and many others. We won’t be returning those animals once they’ve been co-mingled back to those operations or those farms,” Huntzicker said.

But rest assured, PED does not effect the product.

“The good news here is to still remember that it’s not transmissible to us as humans, there is no affect to the meat products that are there. As far as the consumer end is concerned there’s really no concern of safety with this virus,” Huntzicker said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a pound of bacon averaged $5.46 in February, which is a 13 percent jump from a year ago. They estimate consumers will pay about 3 percent more overall for pork this year.

It is not known how the virus got to the United States or where exactly it came from.