USDA to combat spread of deadly pig virus

The Fresno BeeApril 18, 2014 

To help curb the spread of a deadly swine virus, federal agriculture officials will require farmers with diseased herds to track the movement of their animals, vehicles and other equipment leaving their farms.

The rapidly spreading illness, known as Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus or PEDv, has swept over the U.S. and has now been found in 30 states.

Since it was discovered last May, the highly contagious virus has killed an estimated 5 million pigs in major pork-producing states, including Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois. Although the disease does not affect people and is not a food safety concern, it is devastating to baby pigs, killing nearly 100% of those infected.

Ten cases have been discovered in California, including in Tulare County where a farmer lost about 200 baby pigs last winter.

As part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plan, farmers whose pigs have been infected with the virus must report it to state and federal officials. They must also track the movement of their pigs off the farm and any vehicles or farm equipment that travel to and from their operations.

The idea is to try and identify the potential movement of the virus and keep it from spreading. The specifics of the program will be developed in cooperation with state animal health officials, pork producers and swine veterinarians.

"Today's actions will help identify gaps in biosecurity and help us as we work together to stop the spread of these diseases and the damage caused to producers, industry and ultimately consumers," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The high number of pigs killed by PED virus is expected to cause pork prices to rise, experts say.

A recent report by Rabobank, a major agricultural lender, said that if the disease continues at its current rate, the U.S. pork industry could lose as many as 12.5 million hogs this year. That's equivalent to an 11% drop in production.

John Mendes, an animal science instructor at Modesto Junior College, said the USDA's plan is a good move.

"This is not a disease you want to hide," said Mendes, who also manages the college's swine herd. "If you get it, you will need some help and the last thing you want is to give it to someone else."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.

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