NOBULL: Virus kills millions of piglets, consumers pay the price

Virus kills millions of piglets, consumers pay the price


POSTED: 10:45 PM MDT Apr 08, 2014

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – A virus has killed millions of baby pigs in the U.S. and it’s threatening pork production and driving up prices.

Scientists think porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED), which does not infect humans or other animals, came from China, but they don’t know how it got into the country or spread to 27 states since last May. The federal government is looking into how such viruses might spread, while the pork industry, wary of future outbreaks, has committed $1.7 million to research the disease.

Already, prices have shot up: A pound of bacon averaged $5.46 in February, 13 percent more than a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ham and chops have gone up too, although not as much.

Brian Fortinberry, owner of Front Range Barbeque in Colorado Springs, told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that he noticed his pork prices go up around 40 percent this month.

"That’s a huge deal," Fortinberry said. "I don’t even want to think about it. It’s quite a bit and it’s something we have to deal with. It’s not like we can go out and raise our prices to compensate for a rise that dramatic."

Front Range Barbeque is known for its pork and Fortinberry said he doesn’t plan to change that, but customers can expect to see more chicken items on the menu this summer.

Another local food business hasn’t noticed a rise in pork prices because it raises its own hogs. Ranch Foods Direct, a meat packing facility and retail market in Colorado Springs, raises its own livestock in St. Francis, Kansas.

"The whole idea of Ranch Foods Direct is to try to connect the ranch more directly to people," said owner Mike Callicrate. "We really represent an entirely different kind of food system. We’re more local, we’re in the community, and the wealth we create from the community and the land stays in the community."

Callicrate said he foresees a shift in how consumers buy food. He said viruses like the PED virus are an example of a failing industrial system.

Callicrate said his pigs have been healthy so far and they’ve taken extra measures to ensure it stays that way.

Estimates of how many pigs have died in the past year vary, ranging from at least 2.7 million to more than 6 million. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the die-off has had a hand in shrinking the nation’s pig herd by 3 percent to about 63 million pigs.

In the end, consumers will be most affected with pork prices likely to be 10 percent higher overall this summer than a year ago.

Copyright 2014 KRDO. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.