A Virus—Possibly Spread by Pig Feed—Has Killed Millions of Piglets | Smart News | Smithsonian

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A Virus—Possibly Spread by Pig Feed—Has Killed Millions of Piglets

The virus poses no threat to humans, but is deadly to piglets

smithsonian.com

Since April of last year, million of piglets have died on U.S. pork farms in 27 states. They weren’t killed for their meat, but rather offed by a mysterious and deadly virus that’s wreaking havoc on the pork industry. Now, scientist think they’ve identified the way the virus has spread: pig feed. 

According to Jesse Newman and Kelsey Gee at the Wall Street Journal, the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus may have spread through a particular ingredient in pig feed—porcine plasma. Pork feed often uses the blood of slaughtered hogs to supplement piglet feed.

Slaughterhouses gather the blood in troughs and use a centrifuge to separate out the blood and the plasma. They then dry the plasma out and mix it with the other feed ingredients, like corn and soybean meal. But it’s that plasma that could have carried the disease over to the little pigs. 

Newman and Gee report what tipped off scientists: 

Last month, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency disclosed that it had found plasma contaminated with the virus, after multiple hog farms in Ontario that were hit by PED, and another farm on Prince Edward Island with a suspected case, all reported that they bought feed from the same vendor, Ontario-based Grand Valley Fortifiers.

But when laboratories fed the pellets from Grand Valley to test piglets, they didn’t see any sign of the virus. And the FDA hasn’t been able to link the plasma with the disease, either. Despite the lack of a clear link, many farmers are wary about the food they’re using. Many have stopped using feed with that ingredient, just to be safe.

In the meantime, while scientists and farmers search for the cause of the disease, the industry is beginning to talk about raising prices and shortages. The virus poses no threat direct to humans. But it is deadly to piglets and is really hurting the pork industry.

 

 

 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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