“Mysterious Pork Virus May Hike Bacon Prices” – Fox Business, 7 August 2013

In June, we reported on the outbreak of a deadly pig virus that spread to 13 states, called Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV). With no known cure, the virus is continuing to proliferate across America, causing farmers to lose thousands of piglets. The good news is that the disease isn’t transferable to humans, and isn’t lethal for older pigs. The virus is also ongoing in countries like South Korea, China and Thailand — PEDV was first discovered in China in 2010.

In order to fight this disease that has yet to be cured, farmers are taking action to prevent the disease from growing; however, the loss of so many piglets may still give way to increased pricing.

As written in our previous post, PEDV is spread through fecal matter, specifically fecal-oral contact with manure; the infection can be spread by pigs eating diseased feces, or by humans unknowingly transporting feces. Pig farmers anxious to counteract PEDV are concentrating on sanitation, requiring clean supplies, and workers to wear clean boots and overalls. They’re also taking further measures, such as biosecurity plans and cleaning transport trucks with hot-steam pressure washers between shipments.

After a piglet is infected, it only takes 24-48 hours for virus to take full effect; a piglet can become sick within five days. Symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting — PEDV is fatal due to intense dehydration. The disease can infect older pigs, but, so far, has only been deadly for piglets.

Farmers haven’t been obligated to share the number of pig deaths at their farms; deaths may be underreported. Since the end of July, the USDA only knows of 403 PEDV-positive tests, but losses may range in the hundreds of thousands. The National Pork Board is spending $800,000 to investigate PEDV, and study methods for containment and removal.

As far as the cost of the disease go, farmers are likely to take a 7-8% hit to production — a farm could suffer a loss of over 1,000 piglets every week; PEDV has the potential to cost farmers $12-16 more per piglet. While our past harvesting season was abundant — grain prices are decreasing — the disease could definitely take its toll on pork prices.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

August 26, 2013

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“Do antibiotics in animal feed pose a serious risk to human health?” – Medical Xpress, 10 July 2013

Medicated animal feed and water, and the risk they pose to humans, is still widely debated in the agriculture industry, as many are on opposing sides.

Though there are moves to create new antibiotics that would allow for less antibiotic resistance, medical experts suggest that scaling down on antibiotic use overall should be our first step. From 2009-2011, 72% of antimicrobials sold in the US were used to medicate water and animal feed. Such additives are regularly given to animals, in order to boost growth and curb disease, and are often unnecessary since livestock are typically healthy; livestock living conditions — sometimes crowded and unhygienic — are what can encourage disease.

In April, we wrote about a new study by Britain and Denmark that showed that bacteria does indeed move from animals to humans. Denmark, the global forerunner in pork exports, seems to be an expert in the arena of antimicrobial use in livestock production: in 1994, Denmark decreased its usage of antimicrobials by 60%, while also expanding its pork production by 30%. From the British and Danish study, we can easily glean that regular antibiotic use in livestock production can breed resistance.

Politics also play a heavy hand in this debate, and contribute to an unwillingness to act.

See our previous blogs on this subject:
Antibiotics and the Meat We Eat
Study Shows Bacteria Moves From Animals to Humans
Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Surround Big Swine Farms in China & US

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

July 11, 2013

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“Outbreak of deadly piglet virus spreads to 13 states” – NBC News, 19 June 2013

A new swine virus has been discovered in the US, the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV), and has spread to 13 states, with over 100 positive cases. The virus was initially discovered in May, and has proved difficult to control, even in the summer heat. The spread of typical strains of gastroenteritis usually slow during the warmer months, but this strain of PEDV has proved to be quite resilient.

The disease has a high mortality rate with piglets — 50% — though the mortality rate has reached 100% in some areas. US PEDV is 99.4% identical in genetic structure to the Chinese PEDV that ravaged farms across China in 2010, killing over 1 million piglets. PEDV has been observed in many farming states, including Arkansas, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

This infectious outbreak could become even more deadly for the pork industry, which is still suffering from last year’s drought: the drought caused feed-grain prices to skyrocket, compelling farmers to slaughter more pigs than normal. Now there will be a scarcity for meat, with the possibility of pork prices soaring as well.

The USDA is still unsure of how PEDV entered the US — the current focus is the livestock transportation system. The USDA also thinks that the infection could have been spread by pigs eating diseased feces, or humans unknowingly transporting feces.

However, PEDV poses no threat to humans or other animals — it is safe for people to eat meat from pigs infected with PEDV.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

June 21, 2013

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“Hog Prices Slide as Demand Wanes” – Wall Street Journal, 20 March 2013

Hog prices have been steadily declining for the past four months, and are currently at a low. The reasons behind the decreasing demand for pork are interesting, mostly due to economic concerns.

US consumers have opted for inexpensive meats, like chicken, instead of pork; additionally, consumers are feeling certain economic pressures, such as rising prices at the pump.

Pork exports have already dropped 15% from last January, as the big meat buyers — China, Japan, Mexico and Russia — curtail purchases. In the last few years, the US has become fairly dependent on pork exports, as China is the world’s biggest pork consumer. However, as China’s population and demand for the meat grows, the country has stocked up on plenty of domestic supplies. Japan is the US’s biggest buyer, but has been experiencing a weak economy and currency, and doesn’t have the funds for pork exports. Russia has chosen to no longer buy pork from the US, since many US pork farms give their pigs medicated feed that generates leaner meat.

As domestic and international demand for pork decreases, US farmers are faced with larger inventories of pork. People begin to buy more pork during the warmer months, but the continued cold weather has delayed the spring and summer grilling season.

It is hard to say if this trend is cyclical or the economics are changing more structurally.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 16, 2013

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“Oral Fluids for Disease Detection Gaining in Popularity” – National Hog Farmer, 4 February 2013

Typically, samples of tissue, blood, feces, and serum are used for most diagnostic tests; however, in the last few years, oral fluids have been used to identify particular pathogens in pigs.

The Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (ISUVDL) has been using oral fluids from pigs to detect the swine flu virus, among other viruses, and to classify both North American and European strains. Positive results from oral fluids are used as an indicator that such pathogens are present in a group of pigs, rather than disease diagnosis. Sampling oral fluids have become a preferred method for detecting swine flu, as oral fluids are a more sensitive and economical approach over serum sampling, as well as a more animal-friendly system.

Swine influenza virus A (SIV) is widely present in pigs of all ages; but SIV shedding (the infectious period) can be brief, usually taking only 2-3 days. Rather than nasal swabs or tissues, oral fluids have become a better means of identifying pigs that are currently shedding SIV.

ISUVDL has found that idenfitying other viruses using oral fluids, such as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), can be better developed by:

1. Attention to details in collecting oral fluids to minimize amounts of feces or feed in the samples;

2. Immediate chilling of the oral fluid sample at collection and maintaining the “cold chain” through the entire submission process; and

3. Choosing samples with the highest concentration of virus for sequencing. Currently, data from the ISUVDL suggests that sequencing success from serum and oral fluids is fairly similar if starting concentration is similar.

Though these particulars have shown a higher success rate in detecting PRRS, they also help in the detection of SIV.

Such developments are very important: healthy animals lower the cost and safety of meat proteins for the ever-growing, -demanding and health-conscious human consumer.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

February 11, 2013

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“Food Waste: From Farm to Fork and Landfill” – CNN, 21 December 2012

CNN recently published a chart, mapping global food waste from origination to disposal. Gleaned from this chart are the great food losses amassed by both developed and developing countries, and the improper management and conservation of energy and food sources. Though the world is eager to discuss sustainability, green culture and climate change, it seems that food waste is an often untouched topic; yet, one cannot turn a blind eye to CNN’s statistics.

According to CNN, one-third of food produced is lost or wasted globally, a total of 1.3 billion tons per year. Also according to CNN’s chart, food waste in industrialized countries — 222 million tons — is almost equal to the net food production — 230 million tons — in sub-Saharan Africa. That statistic sheds light on how the world unknowingly wastes vast amounts of food because there are no proper management systems in place. Many of these countries don’t blink twice over food losses; developed countries, like the US, take its food access for granted, while developing countries have continually diminished access.

One would think that since the US is experiencing an economic recession and increased food inflation, it would try to gain control of any food loss; however, that is surely not the case. According to the original source for CNN’s chart, 10% of the US energy budget is used to transport food from farms to households, using 50% of US land and consuming 80% of US freshwater resources. However, 40% of food in the US remains uneaten, which is over 20 pounds of food per person, per month. Americans are unnecessarily wasting $165 billion per year, just on food and water losses alone.

Although we are a world obsessed with green culture and recycling, 3% of food waste is currently recycled. Additionally, 40% of landfill content comes from food waste — uneaten food is going straight into the garbage.

As discussed in previous entries – “Milk Price Fight Boils Over” and “Time Is Running Out to Pass a Farm Bill in 2012″  — US food prices may very well skyrocket due to our country’s indecisive lawmakers. If we are able to properly manage and conserve our food supply, and increase efficiency in our food system and use of natural resources, then we might be able to save ourselves money and food, while also meeting the growing food demand.

Additionally, eating less and eating locally grown food (and thereby wasting less and lowering transportation carbon foot print) promotes a happier and healthier lifestyle, while also lowering personal and societal medical costs.

(source)

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 3, 2013

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“Pig Farmers Face Pressure on the Size of the Sty” — New York Times, 5 October 2012

Across the US, hog farms have developed a practice of separating their sows into gestation crates. Before, sows were normally kept in pens; but due to their aggressiveness, hog farmers now separate sows. While gestation crates have kept the price of pork fairly low for consumers, the crates are barely bigger than the pigs themselves. Pork buyers and animal rights groups have deemed gestation crates cruel, and are pressuring hog farmers to move sows back into group housing.

Several large companies, including Dunkin’ Donuts, ConAgra Food, McDonalds and Brinker International (owner of Chili’s) have publicized that they will no longer purchase pork that is produced from farms that use gestation crates. The number of fast-food companies and food retailers that have also made this same pledge is currently at 32; and the Humane Society of the US is having a field day.

Hog farmers aren’t sharing in the Humane Society’s revelry: moving sows back into pens could prove to be expensive for the farmers, and could result in elevated pork prices for consumers.

The Humane Society’s stance that gestation creates are inhumane has swayed some pork processing companies to rectify their facilities. Cargill, the US’s third-largest pork processor, moved to group housing about 10 years ago; Smithfield Foods shifted to pens in 2011. However, Tyson Foods and JBS, two huge pork processors, refuse to make the move.

Gestations crates continually prove to be a positive for hog farmers. In crates, feed can be individually modified; and by limiting movement, defecation can be controlled, and can be kept out of the pig’s food and water. Crates also allow for easier and safer medical treatment; less aggressiveness; and increased work safety. Gestation crates are more cost-effective, and allow for pigs to birth more piglets.

Hog farmers, who have taken steps to improve conditions for pigs, have done so at great costs. Building rates of new barns with pens can be expensive – operational costs are also amplified because more labor is required to manage sow relations. Medical care is more costly, and no ideal feeding system has been identified.

Under these same circumstances, hog farmers in Britain didn’t fair very well. In 1991, the British government forced hog farmers to move their sows to group housing by 1999. Pork prices rose and consumers were reluctant to pay, instead buying low-cost Dutch and Danish pork, which ultimately ruined British farmers.

Now, countries in the European Union that produce pork, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, have been ordered to move their sows into pens by 2013. Latin American, Chinese and Russian hog farmers stand to gain – since they aren’t required to move their sows, they can sell their pork for cheaper rates on the European market.

The current state of the European pork industry could be a cautionary tale for American consumers and the American pork industry alike. Right now, many American hog farmers are making the move from gestation crates to pens. The question to answer: will the farmers see the economic rewards from this move?

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 5, 2012

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“Drought’s Grip Is Wide, Deep”- Wall Street Journal, 4 Sept 2012

Though Hurricane Isaac brought relief to one of our driest summers, the drought still has the capability of slowing our economy.

Farms have faced the brunt of repercussions, severely effecting corn and soybean crops, and increasing prices of feed for chickens, hogs and cattle. Many cattle ranchers and dairy farmers have found it cheaper to slaughter their livestock, which, in turn, affects food companies’ profit margins. According to the Department of Agriculture, food prices could climb 3% to 4% from 2012-13. Food prices rose from 2.5% to 3.5% in 2011-12.

Among other price increases is the growing cost of gasoline. Ethanol, a corn-based fuel that is mixed with gasoline, is a likely source of mounting gas prices. Gasoline prices are now around $3.78, having risen over 40 cents since July.

Regardless of the drought, farm incomes will grow 3.7% this year, to $122.2 billion. This is partly due to elevated prices of corn, soybeans and land, which are compensating for any losses. This, however, hasn’t widely stirred economic growth.

Recent rains cannot undo damages incurred, but may be able to facilitate next year’s soybean crop. Our current economic situation could worsen if moisture isn’t restored for next year’s growing season.

The question to answer: Will inflated food prices cause consumers to spend less on big ticket items, such as flat screen TVs and computers?

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

October 10th, 2012

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“How to Live High on the Hog During a Drought” – Wall Street Journal, 4 Sept 2012

Droughts can severely affect the lives of farm animals; livestock are often slaughtered if their living costs increase too rapidly. Farmers look at the situation economically, and sometimes selling an entire outfit makes more sense than continuing to run the show.

According to the National Climatic Data Center, 2012 has been the hottest year on record. Our summer was unfailingly warm; since June, corn prices have grown 41%, while soybean prices have grown 33%. On the same note, prices for hogs and cattle have dropped 19% and 8%.

There is a rise in the slaughter rate – the rate for hogs has shot up to 16%, when, at this time of year, the rate is usually 4-6%. The drought has raised livestock feed prices, persuading farmers to liquidate their assets.

In late 2007 and mid-2008, grain doubled in price, which pushed farmers into thinning their herds. The monthly average of slaughtered hogs increased to 10 million, from a steady rate of 8-9 million. However, the price of hogs recuperated in 2010-11.

The question to answer: how will our hand in climate change continue to affect the cost of food?

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

October 10th, 2012

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