BUSINESS

PED Virus Hits Canada, Threatening To Devastate Pig Farms

01/27/2014 02:00 EST | Updated 01/27/2014 03:59 EST
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Sausages and schnitzels could soon cost you a lot more bacon, thanks to a pig virus that has spread to Canada, with the potential to do severe damage to many farms.

The virus was first detected in the U.S. last April, and has since spread to 22 states.

Now a farm in Middlesex County, Ont., is the site of the first Canadian outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED), and the virus has spread to a second Ontario farm, this one in the Chatham-Kent region. A third possible case, also in Ontario, is being investigated.

Pig farmers across the country are being urged to tighten biosecurity.

An outbreak could have a significant impact on Canadian agriculture. Pig farming accounts for 10 per cent of all farm revenue and 30 per cent of livestock shipments in Canada, reports the Globe and Mail.

“What you’re seeing in the U.S. would certainly follow suit here in Canada,” Canadian Pork Council member Rick Bergmann told the Globe.

The virus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea, affects mostly piglets, but has a near 100-per-cent mortality rate among them. It doesn’t spread to humans.

Rodney Baker, a veterinary medicine professor at Iowa State University, told NPR he estimates a million pigs have died in North America from the virus, and the final count could be three or four times that, amounting to three or four per cent of the industry total.

But the full extent of the virus is unknown, because farmers aren’t obligated to report cases of PED to authorities, either here or in the U.S.

U.S. pork futures are up six per cent since mid-December and traders are betting pork prices will go even higher, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Some of the U.S. biggest meat producers, including Smithfield Foods and Hormel, have warned of higher prices as a result of the virus, but so far, the price spike has yet to materialize.

"The losses from PEDV have not had a chance to filter all the way through even to the price of pigs yet," Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics, told NPR.

Meyer notes many other things affect the price of pork, and one positive for consumers is that pork feed has been cheap since a bumper crop of grains last fall.

But for individual farm operations, the effects of the virus could be devastating. A Quebec farmer with 1,800 pigs told the Globe he estimates if hit by the virus he could lose his entire operation, costing him $700,000 and wiping out what had begun as an “excellent year” for the industry.

With files from The Canadian Press

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