Pork prices could be on the rise in the next few months because a foreign virus has migrated to the U.S., killing piglets in more than a dozen states.
Historically, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, also known as P.E.D, was thought to exist only in Europe and China. But U.S. producers began reporting the virus in April, and officials confirmed its presence in May.
The virus causes diarrhea, vomiting and severe dehydration in pigs, and can be fatal. Officials stress that the disease is not harmful to humans, and there is no evidence it affects pork products.
The market impact of P.E.D, however, remains to be seen. And is if that wasn’t enough, another swine disease also poses a threat to the pork industry’s bottom line.
USDA researchers are learning more about the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, or PRRS. Also called blue-ear pig disease, it too costs pork producers money and pigs every year.
Dr. Joan Lunney, Research Scientist, USDA ARS: “Overall, in the United States PRRS costs us 642 million a year and if you take into account veterinary costs, it’s one billion a year in the U-S alone. For young pigs being sick means respiratory problems and loss of growth, so it’s a major issue in terms of production. In the adult sow, if she gets PRRS when she’s pregnant, she can lose her litter, and/or her litter becomes sick and some pigs die in utero or are very unthrifty when they’re born.”
USDA researchers have discovered a genetic marker that identifies which pigs are resistant to the effects of PRRS.
Dr. Joan Lunney, Research Scientist, USDA ARS: “We’ve been able to show that there is a region on swine chromosome four that is associated with decreased viral levels and increased growth. So, this is really important because it means that we can help farmers now to decrease the effect of PRRS in their herds.”
According to the USDA the information garnered by researchers could allow animal breeding of PRRS-tolerant hogs. The animals would not be completely resistant to the disease, but reducing the effect of the virus hinges on researchers finding the exact gene that leads to PRRS tolerance and then developing a vaccine and treatment.
Dr. Joan Lunney, Research Scientist, USDA ARS: “They would be buying pigs that are resistant, but not completely resistant to PRRS, but this is not a situation where we have zero PRRS. It is a fifteen percent decrease in PRRS and an eleven percent increase in growth traits.”