KANSAS CITY, Mo. – During a presentation at the 2014 Sosland Purchasing Seminar on June 2, Steve Meyer, Ph.D., president of Paragon Economics Inc., demonstrated not only his expertise as an economic analyst for the livestock industry, but also his knowledge about animal-health issues and the implications for the meat industry, at large.

Meyer estimated that since the discovery of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) in May 2013, 8 million pigs have died, which has had a significant impact on supplies and prices of livestock and pork products, but not necessarily demand. Meyer admitted the outbreak was something nobody saw coming, and as of now – nobody has a discovered a viable solution.

“As someone who has worked in the pork industry for many years, I’m ashamed to say that we never thought of this. We were so focused on keeping the trade-disrupting diseases out that really nobody ever thought about this,” he said.

As part of his job to stay informed about his business, Meyer stays in touch with veterinarians, and they are not optimistic. Concerns about the coming winter season loom large, they tell him, as viruses easily survive and spread outside of a host, and when production facilities are closed up to shield animals from cold weather, they thrive. He says the origins of the virus have been traced back to China, based on the levels of germplasm found in samples, which has led some to believe imports of vitamins and amino acids from China and used in feed here in the US led to the outbreaks in the US.

“PEDv is not just a short-term hit. There is no proven vaccine available or in sight,” he said, explaining how, as a coronavirus, other outbreaks of this category have, in the past, been a scourge of the pork industry.

“When does the industry decide that this thing is endemic?” he asked, saying the only solution for producers would be to add sows to their herds. In the short term, hogs are being fed longer and sent to processing plants heavier.

“This is the tipping point for the industry,” Meyer said and the prospect of adding sows takes time and money. Add to the possibilities that if sows are added and then a vaccine or some other solution is discovered for PEDv, the situation could be equally devastating for the opposite reason.

Stepping up biosecurity efforts is no guarantee either, said Meyer, as some production facilities have incorporated robust policies and still became infected, while other facilities have few or no preventive measures in place and have not had any outbreaks. And some facilities that have reported outbreaks, cleared up the virus by making the remaining herd immune only to encounter a subsequent outbreak nine months later. In the case of an outbreak at a production facility, the standard practice is to make everything else immune by introducing the antibodies into the system of the remaining animals.

“This virus is a tough nut to crack,” said Meyer, “because it is very prolific and reproduces at a rate far greater than what veterinarians have seen for a virus. This thing is a real enigma.”