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May 15, 2014

Oklahoma’s pig farmers hope to contain deadly virus

OKLAHOMA CITY — State ranchers celebrating the arrival of 8 million piglets this spring are wary of their fate, as the pork industry faces the threat of a virus that is deadly for the youngest in their herds.

The porcine epidemic diarrhea virus has destroyed about 5 percent of Oklahoma’s pig population within the past year, pushed up pork prices by nearly $70, and raised concerns that this year’s largest agricultural gatherings could facilitate its spread if people aren’t careful.

The virus, which passes among pigs following contact with feces, does not pose a threat to humans, food safety or other animals. But it has a nearly 100 percent mortality for piglets that contract it. And there is no vaccine.

The National Pork Producers Council estimates the PED virus has killed 7 million pigs in 30 states since it was first detected in the United States last spring.

In Oklahoma, pork producers have contained the virus to northwest corner of the state and the Panhandle region. “And we hope it stays that way,” said Roy Lee Lindsey, executive director of the Oklahoma Pork Council.

In just that region, the virus has killed about 430,000 piglets and infected as many as 185,000 sows on the commercial side of the industry in the past year. The loss of those piglets cost Oklahoma’s pork industry nearly $100 million, Lindsey said.

“The impact has been tremendous,” he said. “There is also tremendous emotional impact for the people on the farms when you’ve got hundreds, sometimes even thousands, dying at a time.”

Though no cases have been reported in his district, state Sen. Ron Justice, R-Chickasha, vice chair of the Senate’s Agricultural and Rural Development Committee, said those in the industry are “very conscious” of the virus and taking precautionary measures.

“What they’re trying to do is keep it confined so it doesn’t spread,” said Justice, adding that anytime so many animals die it creates a huge economic impact on the state.

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