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Deadly Virus Worries Area Pork Producers

Created: 02/07/2014 6:46 PM KAALtv.com
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- A fast-spreading virus is threatening Minnesota's hog population, keeping the state's pork producers on edge.

Friday marked the 70th anniversary of the Minnesota Spring Barrow Show, one of the state's longest running hog showcases.

But attendance was down this year thanks in large part to fears about the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.

"Right now we're all talking about this PED thing,” said Gordon Toenges, the show’s manager. “There are several producers that aren't here today because they didn't want to come and drag something, they’re scared they might bring something home.

Experts say the virus is particularly troubling because of how fast it can spread, and how lethal it can be.

"It'll kill a hundred percent of newborn pigs,” Toenges said. “It'll kill every one of them and might last 4-6 weeks."

And for family farms, that can have a big impact.

"The bigger units, if they farrow 2000 a week, and they lose over six weeks, that's 12,000 pigs,” Toenges said. “And if a pig is worth $200, that's $2.4 million."

But at Hormel Foods, the area's largest pork processer, executives said the impact on pork prices is still unclear.

"There have been some challenges lately with the PED virus that are calling into question a little bit some of the pork supplies, but it's too early to tell yet what the impact will be with that,” said Hormel Foods CEO Jeff Ettinger at the company’s annual meeting last week.

But with no vaccine readily available, pork producers say they're just trying to take precautions and hope for the best.

"It's a big economical loss to a lot of people,” Toenges said. “Like they say, it's not if you're going to get it, it's when you're going to get it, because it's going to come.

Experts say the disease poses no risk to humans.

But if you'd like to learn more, industry professionals will hold an informational meeting at the Cedar River Complex in Osage, Iowa, on February 19th.