KALAMAZOO (WWJ/AP) - Love your bacon, ham and baby-back ribs? Get used to forking over more dough for your pork.
A virus that kills piglets at an alarming rate has been found on 93 farms in Michigan, according to the state agriculture department.
Sam Hines, executive vice president of the Michigan Pork Producers Association, said porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) is not a human health concern, but is deadly to newborn pigs.
"This is not a food safety issue," Hines told WWJ's Marie Osborne. "Most hogs do acquire the virus but bigger animals can recover from it. Pigs that are less than a month old will have such a severe diarrhea that they dehydrate. There's nearly 100 percent mortality with pigs less than three-weeks of age."
Scientists think PED came from China, but they don't know how it got into the U.S. or spread to more than half the country's states since last spring. The federal government is looking into how such viruses might spread, while the pork industry has committed $1.7 million to research the virus.
Estimates of how many pigs have died vary. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently said the die-off has had a hand in shrinking the nation's pig herd by 3 percent to about 63 million pigs. The virus thrives in cold weather, so the death toll in the U.S. has soared since December.
Hines said there's currently no cure for PED, and scientists say it will probably get worse before we see any improvement.
"The researchers that are working on this tell us that this is one of the most infectious viruses that they've ever encountered," he said.
Jennifer Holton, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said PED isn't a disease farmers are required to report, but as of last week, agriculture officials knew of 93 farms in Michigan affected by it.
The effects of the virus already have driven up the price of pork, especially bacon.
"U.S. production is going to decline this year about seven percent and that will probably translate into 10 to 20 percent higher prices for pork," Hines said.
PED has been found in 26 states outside of Michigan, where pork production pulls in a half-billion dollars a year.
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