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What’s at stake for Canada as pig virus spreads

The first case of a deadly pig virus that has killed millions of baby pigs in the U.S. has been confirmed in Canada.


The ailment that swept through the U.S. driving up pork, ham and bacon prices is gaining a foothold here. Farmers are fearful, and with good reason. Here is all you need to know about the killer virus:

What is PED?

Porcine epidemic diarrhea is a virus that kills suckling piglets, usually within five days. Older hogs are weakened and lose weight, but do not die in large numbers. It does not affect humans nor does it affect food safety. Considering that pigs produce just two litters a year, a PED attack can be devastating.

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Will this affect my grocery bill?

Consumers in the United States are paying more for pork as a result of PED, and it is expected Canadian consumers will, too. Since its discovery, the virus has helped drive up bacon prices in the United States by about 15 per cent as it reduced the number of animals going to slaughter by about 1 per cent. There are predictions the 2014 U.S. herd could be cut by 3 per cent, and prices will rise more as people fire up their barbecues when the weather gets warmer. The virus hit when supply was already low; hog producers had culled their herds during 2011-2012 after a major drought drove up the cost of animal feed. (Consumers looking to beef for better prices might be disappointed. Cattle ranchers are also rebuilding post-drought. Wholesale beef prices in the United States have risen by 15 per cent in January.)

How widespread is PED?

Since being discovered in the United States last spring, the fast-spreading virus has been found in about 23 states and has killed between one million and four million pigs. In Canada, PED has been confirmed in a slaughterhouse in Quebec, and in Ontario at farms, one processing plant, a trucking facility and a yard where hogs are gathered for transport. Officials expect it to spread to other hog operations. (PED has been present in Asia and Europe for decades, and the strain in North America is believed to have come from China.)

How does it spread?

PED is passed through manure-to-mouth contact. The virus thrives in the cold and is easily carried on dirty boots, in hog transport trailers or manure pumping equipment. It can be spread by birds and other livestock that come in contact with manure-spread fields. Canada exports pigs to the United States and imports very few, so it is believed the virus came to Canada on an empty truck that had not been thoroughly cleaned.

What is being done to prevent its spread?

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New vaccines for PED have not been proven effective, nor are they widely used. The hog industry and governments are trying to halt its spread by warning producers and truckers to wash and dry transport trucks and ensure that people entering a hog barn shower or at least changes their boots and clothes. Ottawa and provincial governments have responded by allocating funds for biosecurity measures and allowing veterinarians to import a medication that could limit the spread of the virus.

Is the pork industry a big deal?

The pork business accounts for 30 per cent of livestock sales and 10 per cent of the farm sector's overall revenues. Canada exports about half of the $3-billion worth of hogs and pork it produces every year. Most go to the United States, followed by Japan and Russia and almost 100 other countries. Quebec's herd is the biggest, at four million, followed by Ontario and Manitoba. If it spreads across Canada, PED could cost the Canadian pork industry $45-million. Hog producers face the loss of their business and food processors would be forced to pay more for the hogs they process.

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