How do You Stop a Pig Virus? You Stop Eating ‘Big Meat’


Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) has been killing 100,000 piglets every week in the U.S. since May of last year, and it is showing no signs of slowing. Why does this pig virus concern you? I mean, really, who wants to think about pigs who have severe diarrhea so bad that it kills them? Probably no one. But if you eat pork products, you kind of need to.

PEDv, which is 100 percent lethal for piglets under a month old, is causing a staggering number of casualties—the number of hogs slaughtered this year is already down more than 4 percent from 52 million last year (to 50 million), according to USDA figures. There are now so many inedible dead pigs that environmentalists have voiced concerns over state laws that require burials for the animals. There’s a huge potential for contaminated groundwater.

The environmental group Waterkeeper has asked North Carolina—one of the largest pork producing states—to create a plan to deal with the high number of pig casualties. The deaths from the pig virus situation is so out of control says the group that it wants North Carolina to declare a state of emergency. “On its website and YouTube, the organization has posted photos of dead piglets barely covered with earth and boxes overflowing with the bodies of young pigs,” reports the New York Times.

And as imagined, it’s also driving up the price of pork products more than 12 percent. According to the Times, the prices on bacon are up 15 percent and prices on pork chops are up nearly 13 percent. “I’ve been a vet since 1981, and there is no precedent for this,” Paul Sundberg, vice president for science and technology at the National Pork Board told the Times. “It is devastatingly virulent.”

In other words, PEDv is a really big problem. Add to that the pork industry’s clandestine reporting on the issue and it’s safe to say we don’t know just how big of a problem it is.

The USDA has put more than $25 million towards developing a vaccine for PEDv, but that’s still far off. In the meantime, we have an industry battling a nightmarish disease so that Americans can put bacon on everything. And this is an even bigger virus than PEDv.

The nature of factory farming is prone to disease. It’s home to antibiotic resistant bacteria, violent behaviors from farm workers and less than acceptable safety inspections. It’s the nature of things when you’re processing tens of thousands of animals every day. It isn’t sustainable.It isn’t safe.

There’s really only one cure here, and that’s a change in our eating habits. Eating fewer animals means fewer diseases. In a perfect world that would mean no more bacon-topped, bacon-wrapped, bacon-flavored anything. No more chocolate covered bacon. Wrap things in kale instead. In a perfect world, pigs, who are considerably intelligent animals—by some accounts even smarter than your dog—would live dignified lives, even if they’re destined for a dinner table someday. But until we can cure ourselves of this virus—this addiction to Big Meat—we’re bound to see more illnesses. Even if we can cure PEDv, it’s only a matter of time before the next virulent infection. And the next. And the one after that.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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image: stephen and claire farnsworth