The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Snyder County

April 20, 2014

Valley farmers keep eye out for deadly pig virus

— CAMP HILL — Pork producers across the commonwealth — and in the Valley — are on the alert for a still existing virus that last year killed 12 piglets in Pennsylvania and a million piglets around the country.

Hog farmers in central Pennsylvania are taking the threat of the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus seriously, said Mark O’Neill, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, based in Camp Hill. “And they are hopeful that biosecurity measures on the farm will help reduce the risk of PED among their animals and thwart the possibility of losing their pigs due to the virus. 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.”

But the problem continues this year. Cases of PED are increasing across the U.S. farm belt, a group of animal health researchers said.

Confirmed cases of PED increased by 252 in the week ending March 1, bringing the total number to 4,106 in 26 states, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

Although the number of cases found in Pennsylvania was relatively small last year, the potency of the disease is such that the state Department of Agriculture is urging vigilance.

“We’re certainly monitoring the situation,” a spokesman said Friday.

The Department of Agriculture does not track the disease, however. “That’s a job best done within the industry, by the industry,” the state spokesman said. Neither representatives in the industry nor government officials could say in what counties the disease occurred last year.

Farms stricken with the pig virus must report outbreaks as part of a new program to help monitor and possibly control the spread of the disease, the federal government said Friday.

Farmers have struggled to control the virus because little is known about how it spreads and there is not yet a federally approved vaccine. PED poses no threat to food safety or human health.

The USDA said Friday it would commit $5 million to fight the disease, boosting the $1.7 million research effort already begun by the pork industry. It also will require farmers to report cases of a similar disease, swine delta coronavirus.

The nation is both a top producer and top exporter of pork, but production could decline about 7 percent this year compared to last, the biggest drop in more than 30 years, according to a recent report from Rabobank, which focuses on the food, beverage and agribusiness industries.

Already, prices have shot up: A pound of bacon averaged $5.46 in February, 13 percent more than a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ham and chops have gone up too, although not as much.

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