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Swine disease hits the bacon counter

Jeff Caldwell 08/12/2013 @ 9:18am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

If you're a fan of bacon, you may want to stock up soon to save a few bucks.

The relatively new disease porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) has ravaged the U.S. hog herd this summer, and as veterinary officials work to find an effective treatment for the disease to which there's no natural immunity, the disease is starting to influence prices for bacon and other pork products, reports show.

A report from University of Nebraska Extension shows that pork futures are about $30/hundredweight higher than they were a year ago. The price spike is hitting pork bellies particularly hard; wholesale fresh pork belly -- from which bacon is made -- is heading north of $190/CWT, near an all-time high. That's led bacon prices, for example, to rise around 15% over a year ago.

The price trend is likely to continue until a PED control measure is found. For now, University of Nebraska veterinary and biological scientist Bruce Brodersen says much of the potential for control lies in the hands of producers.

"Since the swine population has never been exposed before to this virus, they're very susceptible," Brodersen says in a university report. "The disease outbreaks are very severe because there's no immunity to it at all. So, it's been devastating as far as pig mortality is concerned."

The disease has actually yet to rear its head in Nebraska, but that puts a premium on industry members and leaders taking the right steps now to keep the herd PED-free.

"You should always follow very strict biosecurity steps," Brodersen adds.

Porcine epidemic diarrhea causes "diarrhea and vomiting violent enough to kill them" in young pigs, according to a university report. Officials with USDA have confirmed just 400 cases in the agency's labs, but industry officials estimate hundreds of thousands of animals have been infected with PED.

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