MONROE CITY, Mo. — It’s hard to blame Scott Hays for waking up each morning and wondering if this is the day death pays a visit to his hog farm.
He’s a partner in family-owned Two Mile Pork, based in this small farming community 20 miles west of Hannibal. And like thousands of other hog producers across the nation, he spends a lot of time these days worrying about porcine epidemic diarrhea, referred to as PED in hog circles.
The vicious viral disease has dealt the pork industry a staggering blow since appearing in the U.S. last spring. The disease poses no risk to humans, but it kills virtually every piglet, 14 days and younger, that it touches.
Increased anxiety over the virus prompted the fifth-generation farmer last fall to put together a step-by-step plan for employees in the event of an outbreak. More than anything, he wanted to get everyone ready, emotionally, for what would happen.
“To show up for work and know that everything that’s born today is going to die, I don’t think you can ever really be prepared for that,” Hays said.
But that’s what farms in 27 states have been dealing with in the past 12 months. Estimates vary, but somewhere between 5 million and 10 million piglets have died from dehydration caused by the diarrhea.
From a pocketbook perspective, it’s something consumers will become well acquainted with throughout the year, with prices for bacon and other pork cuts climbing into record territory.
But what’s most frightening for farmers such as Hays is the simple fact that we still don’t know how the disease made it to the U.S. — or how to keep pigs safe from it.
“We can’t control it. We can’t stop it,” Hays said. “And it doesn’t seem to be going away.”