OVER the next two years, 18.5 million fewer hogs — representing 12.5% of 2013 levels — could be slaughtered in North America if porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) continues to spread through Canada and Mexico as well as the U.S. (Figure), according to a recently released Rabobank report.
Given the high mortality rate in preweaned piglets and the extremely contagious nature of the virus, PEDV has been a daily concern for North American hog farmers and other industry partners since its emergence last year.
"The virus has attacked our pork industry since last spring. It is one of the most serious and most devastating diseases our producers have dealt with in decades," said Karen Ritcher, a producer from Minnesota and president of the National Pork Board.
While the virus is a swine disease and not a human health issue, PEDV has economic implications not just for pork producers but also for consumers.
* U.S. The outbreak of PEDV has had a damaging impact on the availability of market hogs in the U.S. this year. In the report, Rabobank forecasts that 12.5 million fewer hogs will be slaughtered in 2014, which will result in an overall U.S. pork production decline of 6-7%, the largest estimated decrease in 30 years.
Moreover, August through October will be the tightest months — declining 15-25% from 2013 levels — for processors because the number of PEDV cases escalated through the winter months. Nevertheless, the warmer temperatures should impede the number of PEDV cases, and hopefully, in time, more breeding herds will build immunity.
With the virus affecting 27 states, the number of cumulative cases reported through the week of March 16 was 5,017, but it is important to keep in mind that a case can represent one or several hogs in a herd, and hog farmers are not required to report PEDV outbreaks. Therefore, the estimates can be integrally uncertain given the voluntary nature of the PEDV reporting.
Still, Rabobank report authors Will Sawyer and Pablo Sherwell concluded, "If the virus continues at its current rate, the shortfall to U.S. slaughter in 2014 could be as high as 15 million hogs, or 13.5% of annual slaughter."
Furthermore, the total reduction in U.S. pork production is estimated at 11%; however, PEDV losses will be offset by a 1.5% increase in production from hog farmers without PEDV and a 3% boost in hog slaughter weights, according to the report.
After an outstanding crop year and higher hog prices, pork producers can look forward to increased profitability, depending on the effect PEDV has on individual operations.
If hog producers were fortunate enough to have a mild or no outbreak, then Rabobank calculated their profit margin to be more than $60 per head, the highest calendar year average in more than 40 years.
In contrast, if hog operations had difficulty eradicating the virus, then their potential profits will be dramatically lessened by the higher fixed costs and weaker production.
* Mexico. Following the appearance of PEDV in the U.S., the virus had crossed the southern border into Mexico by the second quarter of 2013. Although information on the spread of the disease in Mexico has been restricted, Sawyer and Sherwell estimated that, to date, 30% of the herds in the country have been exposed, based on available information.
Thus, according to the report, it is estimated that hog slaughter in Mexico will decline 7.5% in 2014 and 6% in 2015, assuming that PEDV expands in the same manner as it has in the U.S. In addition, slaughter weights in Mexico are lower than in the U.S., which works out to an overall 9.7% drop in Mexico's pork production for the year.
Moreover, Mexico's meat production is projected to be 1.146 million metric tons for 2014, the lowest prediction since 2006. Consequently, the 2015 production estimate, based on current conditions, is 1.125 mmt.
* Canada. Canada is in the early stages of its PEDV outbreak. Currently, PEDV has been detected in four Canadian provinces since January. The full effect on the country's pork supplies will not be known until 2015, especially as warmer weather will slow the spread of the virus.
Taking advantage of U.S. experience and information, Canada immediately, upon the first confirmed case of PEDV, established strict biosecurity policies — including requiring all trucks from the U.S. to be thoroughly washed — to prevent the spread of the virus.
Although the disease does not affect humans or pork safety, it has infected and killed millions of young pigs, which has industry leaders, producers, veterinarians, nutritionists, academics and government officials collectively seeking a comprehensive approach to eradicate PEDV.
Recently, individuals representing the U.S. and Canadian pork, feed and allied industries participated in a meeting on PEDV hosted by the National Pork Board, in collaboration with the National Pork Producers Council, American Association of Swine Veterinarians, American Feed Industry Assn. (AFIA), National Grain & Feed Assn., National Renderers Assn. and North American Spray Dried Blood & Plasma Producers.
"Our main goal was to bring a group of people together to help us agree on research needs related to PEDV and feed systems so that we can get answers to ongoing questions as quickly and efficiently as possible," said Dr. Paul Sundberg, Pork Board vice president of science and technology. "We've been working on PEDV research and collaborating with all pork industry stakeholders since the disease was discovered here, and we'll continue doing that to get practical results for farmers to use to save their pigs."
During the daylong session, experts shared current information about the virus, including transmission routes, possible vectors and current testing limitations. In addition, the group agreed that PEDV is of Asian origin genetically, but how it was introduced in North America remains unknown.
"After taking all of this information into consideration, the group agreed that there are multiple ways for pigs to become infected via a fecal-oral route, including environmental, transportation, feed systems and other vectors," Sundberg said.
The group also identified top research priorities: (1) to investigate the effectiveness and cost of treatments that could be used to mitigate the survival of PEDV and other viruses in feeds, (2) to conduct contamination risk assessments at all steps within the feed processing and delivery chain, (3) to develop a substitute for the currently used swine bioassay procedures and (4) to continue to investigate the risk of feed and other pathways for pathogen entry into the U.S.
To date, the pork checkoff has funded 17 PEDV-related research projects totaling nearly $1.7 million. The AFIA Institute for Feed Research & Education has pledged $100,000 toward PEDV research.
AFIA senior vice president Richard Sellers added, "To show our dedication, industry groups are committing resources and funding to the research effort and will continue to communicate updates to those affected in order to minimize further effects."