Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or the PED virus, is currently decimating the supply of young pigs.
Swine veterinarians claim the virus, which appeared for the first time in the U.S. in April, causes severe diarrhea and vomiting, is fatal only to piglets, and poses no threat to human health or food safety.
The U.S. strain is almost indistinguishable to a version that restricted hog production in China in 2012. Bear in mind that last year, Smithfield Foods, America’s largest pork producer and processor, was acquired by Shuanghui International, a Chinese company.
Many readers may recall that China’s food system is nothing short of a nightmare, plagued by scandal after scandal involving numerous forms of contamination.
KFC revealed some Chinese suppliers provided them chickens with high levels of antibiotics, in what appeared to be an industry-wide practice.
Shuanghui International Holdings said last month the virus could result in a loss to U.S. pig production this year of two million to three million head, or up to 3% of the industry’s total.
According to Fox News, the U.S. strain is nearly identical to a version that curbed hog production in China in 2012.
Because the disease has spread to farms in 22 states and is thinning pork supplies, prices in the hog-futures market have skyrocketed to a seven-week high and are up 6% since mid-December.
“This is the toughest disease we’ve ever gone through,” said Mike Brandherm, a general manager with Hitch Pork Producers, a Guymon, Okla., livestock producer that lost 30,000 piglets in six weeks in a 2013 outbreak.
“It was stunning how fast the disease spread. You feel helpless.”
The situation could even be worse since farms don’t have to report incidents or death totals to federal regulators.
Smithfield and other meatpackers estimate that about 10% of the nation’s sows, or adult female hogs, have been infected by the virus, which can spread to their offspring.
As a safety measure, many U.S. hog farmers are disinfecting equipment and workers’ footwear, but many farmers claim this virus is difficult to prevent.