The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


May 4, 2014

More than commodities

— As I read with interest the article about Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus, something seemed missing. A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau was quoted as saying, “If the scope of the disease spreads in 2014, reducing hog inventories, then consumers could experience price increases, but that is not a foregone conclusion at this time.”

When I read the phrase “hog inventories,” it was easy to imagine plastic- or paper-wrapped packages of pork, but not so easy to imagine the living creatures whose bodies become that pork. Searching the article for some description of the virus’s effect on those creatures themselves, I found none. I was, however, assured on page 2 that “PED poses no threat to food safety or human health.”

According to an article in the Emerging Infectious Diseases section of the Centers for Disease Control web site, PED causes “severe enteritis, vomiting, watery diarrhea, dehydration, and a high mortality rate among swine.” The National Hog Farmer FAQ page explains that PED is often fatal in suckling pigs but weaned pigs tend to survive, and “herd immunity will mitigate losses starting about three weeks after herd infection. Thus, it is likely that 3-5 weeks of production will be lost in continuous farrowing operations, whereas batch farrowing operation losses can range from a few to as much as 100 percent.”

One of my earliest memories is of watching my grandmother slaughter a chicken, and my first summer job was in a chicken hatchery. I don’t romanticize farm animals. Neither do I pretend, nor did any of my farming grandparents claim, that hogs, cattle and chickens are not capable of suffering. I’m also aware that there are farmers in our valley and elsewhere who attend to the welfare of the animals they raise for meat. But the view put forward in this article, in which the animals we eat are referred to as “commodities” only, is much more common in our culture. If we as a society are willing to ignore the suffering of creatures to whom our lives are so intimately connected that they literally become part of us, what wonder is it that we treat our fellow humans so callously?

Sabrina Kelly,


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