The Ottumwa Courier

April 30, 2014

Hog sickness spreading

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — A hog disease making news around the nation is not dangerous to humans, nor is it going to produce toxic food. That's the good news. There's plenty of bad.

The USDA reports "Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (called PED or PEDv) causes significant sickness in swine, affecting their growth and health and causes high mortality in piglets."

"We're watching it very closely," said Randy Zorn, plant manager for the Cargill Meat Solutions Plant in Ottumwa.

Not because it will hurt humans but because it hurts piglets.

"PEDv only affects pigs and does not pose any risk to people or pets. And it is not a food safety concern," he said.

The USDA confirms that summary. But the National Pork Board says its members are very concerned. A Pork Board consultant reported on its website that producers lost 1.3 million piglets in January alone.

Their experts say the death rate is 50 to 100 percent among infected piglets. Adult swine can become infected but generally, the board reports, do not "have mortality" from PEDv.

"It's not good for the industry, and it's not good for the consumer," said Zorn. "It will have some impact later this summer, when we'll see lower production levels."

With demand at its current level but less supply, it seems obvious to the plant manager and the experts at the Pork Board that prices are bound to go up. Zorn doesn't see major reductions in the plant workforce.

"We may be looking at reduced operating hours in [some departments]," he said.

But producers remain hopeful, the National Pork Board reports.

"The challenging events of the past year also may have served to unite the industry in a focused direction. According to [recent] survey results, three of every four producers surveyed reported that the pork industry is on the 'right track.' Not only is that result the highest in survey history but is up 16 points from the 2012 result of 59 percent," the National Pork Producers posted on its website.

— To follow Mark Newman on Twitter, check out @CourierMark