MILWAUKEE (AP) — The federal government has given conditional approval to the first vaccine licensed to fight a deadly pig virus, and warmer weather appears to be slowing the spread of the disease that has been blamed in part for making bacon more expensive.
Porcine epidemic diarrhea has killed millions of baby pigs since it showed up in the United States last year, and pork prices have been rising for months. Bacon averaged more than $6 per pound in May, nearly 19 percent more than it did 12 months earlier, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For consumers, the worst may be yet to come because the most deaths happened last winter, and those animals would just now be reaching market weight. Prices also have risen more than economists previously predicted, and one said he doesn't expect to see them come down much even if slaughter picks up in October and November as anticipated. Strong demand for pork in the U.S. and overseas has amplified the effect of the disease, said Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics.
"I think it is important to know that we're not going to run out of pork," he added. "There's still going to be pork on the shelves. It will be a little pricier than before, but it's still a good value compared to beef."
Beef has become more expensive since a nationwide drought in 2012 forced ranchers to send millions of animals they couldn't feed to slaughter.
PED does not infect humans or pets but has proven deadly to young pigs. Struck with severe diarrhea, piglets dehydrate quickly and must be euthanized to end their misery. With little information on how the virus operates or spreads, farmers have struggled to get a grip on it.
The federal government gave the conditional approval last week to a vaccine produced by Iowa-based Harrisvaccines. The vaccine, which was already available on a test basis, has been used mostly to boost immunity in sows that had PED so they could better pass on antibodies to their young.
Company spokesman Joel Harris said Wednesday that one challenge with PED is that infection doesn't result in lifetime immunity, as it does for some viruses, and pigs may sicken again in a few months.