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As Pig Virus Spreads, The Price Of Pork Continues To Rise

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As Pig Virus Spreads, The Price Of Pork Continues To Rise

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As Pig Virus Spreads, The Price Of Pork Continues To Rise

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The price of pork is on the rise and a deadly pig disease is partially to blame. Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus or PEDV, has killed more than 7 million piglets over the past year. Many hog producers are worried about how to keep their operations immune. Abbie Fentress Swanson reports.

CLAYTON STEPHENS: These are a couple of pigs I got kind of set aside for the state fair. One's a crossbred barrow and one's a York barrel.

ABBIE FENTRESS SWANSON, BYLINE: For the past 10 summers, Clayton Stephens has been showing his pigs at the New York State Fair. After the swine shows the tall 19-year-old will sell his animals and begin to raise next year's group of show piglets, unless the fast spreading porcine epidemic diarrhea virus makes its way on to his farm.

STEPHENS: The main thing with the PD virus is that it hits the baby pigs. The number that I've heard is they lost like 250,000 baby pigs - show pigs and that's not even touching the commercial side.

TOM VILSACK: Just a year ago we had roughly a little over a hundred operations, impacted and affected by these viruses. Well today it's over 4,700.

SWANSON: That's agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, speaking on the USDA's daily radio report. In early June his department pledged to spend $26.2 million to eradicate PEDV. That virus can't be transmitted to humans and doesn't pose a serious threat older pigs but it can slow down how fast hogs grow. Research is ongoing about the origin of the virus and how PEDV is spread.

VILSACK: It's a delicate balance because you don't want to raise people's concerns because that could have negative impact on market. You don't want to raise people's concerns because export activities could be impacted.

SWANSON: Vilsack says the continued spread of the disease and newly detected strains of the virus have moved the USDA to take a more aggressive stance. The department has approved the use of a vaccine that may protect piglets from the disease, even though it's still being tested in commercial settings. The USDA is also ordering hog producers to report new PEDV cases and is urging farmers to put biosecurity controls in place. Michael Yezzi raises 1000 hogs a year and is trying to keep his hilly farm in Shushan, New York PEDV free through commonsense measures. Like washing down trailers that have been to the slaughterhouse, having visitors wear disposable plastic boots and buying pigs from vet checked readers.

MICHAEL YEZZI: They don't know where this disease is coming from. Even closed operations that aren't getting pigs from the outside have gotten this, even with the strictest biosecurity situations. So everybody's at risk.

SWANSON: More than a dozen state fairs across the country are also taking measures to slow the spread of the disease. Here's New York State veterinarian Dave Smith.

DAVE SMITH: We did make a recommendation to the state fair that they not have nursing piglets with sows this year. We do know that PEDV is devastating to piglets under 10 days of age and we really do not want to see a bunch of sick and dying piglets at the fair. It's an exhibit no needs to see.

SWANSON: Other states including Virginia, South Dakota and Ohio have cancel certain hog shows or are requiring that Pigs be taken to the slaughterhouse right after the fair. It remains to be seen whether tightening up biosecurity will slow the spread of the disease. Meanwhile economists predict farmers will reduce the size of their herds to minimize the risk of PEDV infection. Consumers can expect pork prices to continue to rise in the second half of this year. For NPR News, Abbie Fentress Swanson.

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