The Porcine Endemic Diarrhea Virus, or PEDv, has killed four to five million pigs nationwide in less than a year, as industry leaders and federal policymakers try to stem its spread.

“This has become one of the most serious and devastating diseases our pig farmers have faced in decades,” said Karen Richter, president of the National Pork Board. “While it has absolutely no impact on food safety, it has clear implications for the pork industry in terms of supplying pork to consumers. Our No. 1 priority is to address PEDV.”

The National Pork Board is throwing additional funds earmarked for research in the fight against the further spread of virus, which was first identified in the United States last May. The funds – $650,000 through supplemental funding approved by the Pork Checkoff at last week’s Board meeting and $500,000 through a new agreement with Genome Alberta, will provide new opportunities for research.

A new collaboration against the disease includes the Pork Board, the National Pork Producers Council, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, the American Feed Industry Association, the National Grain and Feed Association, the National Renderers Association and the North American Spray Dried Blood and Plasma Protein Producers, which is made up of five member-companies throughout the United States and Canada. This project will align swine, feed and veterinary groups to bring an even higher level of collaboration in the fight against the disease.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, PEDV has surfaced in 26 states. Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics and pork consultant, estimates the loss of more than 5 million piglets in the past several months, with 1.3 million lost in January alone. 

“Losses of this magnitude will ultimately have a consumer impact through a reduction in supply,” Meyer said. “Some pork supply will be made up through producing higher market-weight hogs and through other loss mitigation actions, but today we are already seeing summer pork futures climb to record levels.”

Federal assistance called from 2014 farm bill

The 2014 Farm Bill, signed into law last month, permanently extends critical livestock disaster assistance that could help producers in North Carolina, Michigan and 24 other states cope with the virus. Senators Kay Hagan (North Carolina) and Debbie Stabenow (Michigan) sent a letter March 13 to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and asked him to approve disaster assistance for small pork producers.

“Pork producers that have been impacted by PEDv face economic devastation, these producers are finally experiencing periods of higher margins after prolonged periods of razor thin profits. If this disease persists, pork herds will continue to diminish and producers risk going out of business,” the letter says.

The letter asks USDA to increase research for a vaccine and other interventions to address PEDv, for which no vaccine or treatment currently exists.

PEDv poses a serious threat to the agricultural economy. The pork industry supports 550,000 jobs across the country and contributes $34.5 billion to the U.S. economy. PEDv has a reported mortality rate of nearly 100 percent for piglets under two weeks old and ultimately kills 50 percent to 80 percent of all newborn and suckling pigs.

Older feeder or grower pigs are more capable of fighting the virus, suffering only a 1 percent to 3 percent death rate. The virus has occurred in Europe and Asia, but last spring was the first instance of PEDv in the United States.