PEDV

A few days ago I mentioned that 2014 was the most profitable year ever for industrial pork producers, thanks primarily to lower feed and fuel costs, and a booming export market.  At the beginning of last year, however, that would result would have seemed highly unlikely.

Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) arrived in the U.S. in 2013 and took a heavy toll.  Approximately 7 million pigs died from the effects of the virus in the U.S. during 2013 and 2014.

The virus leads to vomiting and severe diarrhea and it is deadly to piglets.  50-100 percent of infected piglets die.  Adult animals infected by the virus generally survive their illness.

The virus, which was already present in Asia and Europe before appearing in the U.S., has now been identified in 33 states, having arrived most recently in Hawaii.  So far researchers have been unable to determine how it spreads.

According to the USDA, pigs exposed to and infected by PEDV are still safe for human consumption. So it hasn’t been as devastating to the industry as it might otherwise have been. Still, the virus killed about 5% of the pigs in the U.S. last year.

Even with that kind of mortality, the industry was still able to generate record profits.

Whether they will be able to haul in profits like that again in 2015 remains to be seen of course.  Just as vaccines were rolling out to treat the virus, a third mutated strain was discovered this month which isn’t affected by the vaccines.

According to one article I read, the industrial producers are increasing herd size in anticipation of more losses.  Of course that means they’re counting on millions of dead piglets and “risking” oversupply (and lower prices for their products) if that doesn’t happen.  As one industry analyst says, “If producers overbreed to compensate for 6% death loss and don’t have it, we’ll have 6% more pigs.”  When I read statements like that, I never get a sense that they’re talking about living creatures.

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24 comments on “PEDV

  1. shoreacres says:

    Tucked into the middle of your post is an observation that has implications far beyond agriculture: ” Just as vaccines were rolling out to treat the virus, a third mutated strain was discovered this month which isn’t affected by the vaccines.” The same thing happened this year with the flu vaccine. I have friends in the health professions who are convinced overuse of antibiotics in humans is leading to some of the unusual mutations we’re seeing in disease strains. If that were to be true, there’s no reason not to wonder if the same isn’t true on the farm.

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    • Joanna says:

      A slight flaw in that logic. Flu is a virus and antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, such as the secondary infections people get when they get flu when their immune system is down. However, when I studied Pharmacology thirty years ago (was it really that long ago? Ouch!), anyway even then they were talking about antibiotic overuse and the repercussions for mutations to something that couldn’t be cured, as bacteria adapted to fight the antibiotics. So yes, antibiotic overuse is leading to mutations, but no it shouldn’t affect the flu viruses. Still a scary subject, as it could take us back to the pre-antibiotic era if we are not careful, even with the recent discovery of how to utilise organisms from soil to generate a new generation of antibiotics.

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      • shoreacres says:

        You’re right, of course, re: bacteria vs. viruses. Still, my own error points to the problem. These days, far too many people show up at doctors office asking for antibiotics for whatever’s ailing them, and too many doctors are willing to hand them out. I have friends who talk about getting Z-packs like they’re picking up a roll of Life Savers.

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      • Joanna says:

        I know I despair that the message is still not getting through, after all these years. I don’t think people realise how dangerous the situation is. They have glimpses of it with MRSA and the like, but it isn’t really stopping folks

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      • Bill says:

        We attended a seminar at a veterinary college at a nearby university a couple of years ago on the subject of intestinal parasites in goats–a very significant problem that is threatening to decimate our goat population. The scientist presenting at the seminar acknowledged that the situation is the result of vets’ advice 20 years ago to routinely treat herds with antibiotics twice a year. This lead to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the pharmaceutical companies can’t keep up with the mutations. She said that the government requires that one effective antibiotic be withheld from the market at all times, so there will be at least one (hopefully) effective treatment if it should cross over to humans. Not immediately relevant to this virus (which is rampaging through the Ukraine right now–not sure about Lithuania), but an example of what y’all are talking about.

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      • Joanna says:

        Ukraine is quite far away from us really here in Latvia (close, Lithuania is to the south) about 500 miles between borders and Belarus in between. It is Asian Swine Fever that is troubling our nation at the moment.

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      • Bill says:

        Sorry. Of course I know you are in Latvia Joanna. I don’t know why I typed Lithuania.

        This virus is making the industrial pork producers very nervous about biosecurity of course. I seem to recall reading that they’re worried about the Asian Swine Fever as well.

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    • Bill says:

      Amazingly, 80% of the antiobiotics used in the US are administered to farm animals, in part to combat the diseases and sickness prevalent on factory farms, but primarily because it was discovered by accident that low doses of antibiotics in animal feed act as a growth stimulant. So these sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics are being routinely fed to animals, leading to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is creating a very significant public health risk.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, it’s sad that industry has become bottom line profit with animal life. I’ve seen an actual hog confinement setup here in the U.S. It doesn’t surprise me that disease is a problem. The operation that I saw was a small one with only maybe 100 pigs but the concept has been something I can’t really forget. Even in the worst of conditions the pigs still seemed to be happy and scrambled to the rail for attention or maybe they were just conditioned by feeding time. Every thing was automated and routine vaccinations were given. Hardly any touching of the pig was required except for vaccinations and loading up to ship off to market. Our pigs on my Dad’s farm were pastured pigs. It was a challenge to keep a pig tight fence but they were happy pigs. As I remember there were about 15 pigs in a pasture that was maybe three or for acres.

    I’ve seen actual chicken egg farms in Nicaragua as well. The life of a chicken is a little longer than a pig in confinement but living conditions are confined so close that the beaks are clipped to keep them from harming each other. They peck at each other from the stress of being so close together. There’s five chickens in a three foot square cage. The egg farm that I toured produced 1000s of eggs per day. Another sad part of the process was the chicken feed. It was produced from the chickens of the last generation. The egg layers last about two years at which time they are replaced and the old layers are sent off to the feed factory to made chicken feed from them. The chickens are forced to be cannibals. The feed comes laced with antibiotics to keep them healthy enough to produce eggs. Very sad indeed.

    It’s very admirable that all your animals are allowed to live their lives the best way they can.

    Have a great humane animal day.

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    • Bill says:

      Imagine how horrified and outraged the public would be if dogs were being treated like we treat pigs. Anyone who did that would be sent to prison. What would the reaction be to someone who treated parakeets the way industrial agriculture treats chickens? What if horses were treated the way cows are treated?

      Those distinctions are arbitrary. Our culture wants lots of cheap meat, and doesn’t want to be told about the lives of the animals from whom it came.

      You can’t practice animal husbandry on an industrial scale.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Jeff says:

    Creatures? What creatures? Capitalism is solely concerned with commodities, not living beings.

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    • Bill says:

      It’s interesting how my last sentence ended up setting the tone of the entire post and subsequent discussion. I’d typed it all and was about to hit “publish” when it struck me that the quote in the last sentence didn’t seem to be referring to living creatures, so I added one more sentence.

      The commodification of food is at the root of the problems with industrial agriculture–at many levels. Not only does it encourage and facilitate environmental degradation, animal abuse, poor public health, and the destruction of community-based economies, but it also contributes to the destruction of the sense of gratitude, wonder and mystery that has traditionally been attached to food and meals. It is no wonder that food has always been closely tied to religion. But now, according to “the economy,” food is a mere commodity.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. farmerkhaiti says:

    I just got into it with an industrial factory farm pork producer on this stupid post she wrote contesting the pork shortage. It was about the lack of humane pork after Chipotle ceased serving pork when they found out was not up their company standards. She was bragging how much better barn raised pork is for the pigs. Pork futures are traded on the stock market—all of this disconnect, lack of acknowledgement of being-ness, let alone actual empathy has a huge subconscious effect on society in my opinion. There could be a thesis there, huh?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Absolutely. Well said. “Lack of acknowledgement of being-ness.” Exactly. As I suggested in response to Jeff’s comment, I believe the commodification of food diminishes our humanity.

      The Chipolte decision is an encouraging sign. I choose to believe that over the long run humanity corrects its mistakes and tacks back onto the right course. Although it seems that industry has the power, the ultimate power in a society like ours lies with the consumer. If no one buys meat from pigs raised that way, the industry will stop raising them that way. When McDonald’s said no to GMO potatoes (because of consumer pressure), that was the end of them. We’ve got a long ways to go, of course, but I see that as a small victory to build on.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. avwalters says:

    CAFOs are not farms. They are industrial operations. And, like the factory model on which they are based, the pork is the output. The pigs are just one of the raw materials. My hat is off to Chipotle, for raising the issue from a consumer perspective. We will not see change until consumers look beyond the saran wrap.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. In the world of corporate profits, we are often regarded the same way, Bill. –Curt

    Liked by 3 people

  7. EllaDee says:

    I was sure I read during 2014 headlines like “pork producers hurt by virus”… I Googled, and sure enough I did… “Deadly pig virus hurting producers… Killer pig virus hits US pork producers… Pork prices high… Pork producers enjoy high profits while continuing to battle”…
    “When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses.” – Shirley Chisholm

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    • Bill says:

      Early last year the headlines were predicting higher pork prices and lower producer profits. But in the end they just absorbed the losses, tossed 7 million dead piglets into the garbage, and had their most profitable year in history.

      I just wonder how long they can get away with manipulating nature. There is no ecosystem that will accomodate thousands of pigs in such a small area.

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  8. bobraxton says:

    As presented in “Food and Faith,” not only morality but also our own mortality …

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