The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Friday that it would initiate a reporting and monitoring system for porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV). 

Though the term “reportable” was used in some media reports, I do not use it here because it has some serious trade connotations.  OIE, the world organization for animal health, considers only a few diseases “reportable” and attaches trade restrictions to most, including hoof and mouth disease, classical swine fever and African swine fever. 

PEDV is obviously not on that list, so I’ll not use “reportable” to describe this action.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that USDA would require farm identities and herd locations on sample submissions to animal health laboratories and that those farms would be included in a monitoring and control program and is still under development.  Pig movements will still be allowed but part of the monitoring program will be tracking of all movements of pigs, vehicles and other equipment leaving infected farms.  That last feature is an apparent surprise to the trade, and a tall order indeed.

This announcement may reflect some concern over the industry’s plight and could conceivably help, but it is more likely motivated by politics.  A few weeks ago, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairperson Deb Stabenow (D-MI) called on USDA to utilize disaster assistance funds to compensate producers for PEDV losses. 

She was joined in that call by Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC).  Senator Al Franken (D-MN) on April 10 asked Sec. Vilsack to enhance detection capabilities and to take measures to prevent the virus from spreading.  I really do believe that Senators Stabenow, Hagan and Franken are truly concerned about citizens of their respective states (and others, for that matter) but it is no coincidence that Hagan and Franken are involved in re-election campaigns at the present time and the administration would, no doubt, very much like to retain the Democratic majority in the United States Senate. Nothing sinister. Just politics. 

Whether the effort will do much to stem the rising tide of PEDV will depend on the details about which we know nothing.  It is my opinion that Canada’s steps in making the disease “monitorable” (I really do not know the right word to use) has helped its efforts to control the spread of PEDV.  Their move, of course, was based in-part on their enviable position as a late-comer to the PEDV battle and the opportunity that afforded them to observe how our efforts – or lack thereof -- failed to stem the disease’s spread. 

The idea of gathering pig loss numbers appeared nowhere in the Secretary’s announcement.  That data could still be part of the details, but if they are not, very little help will be provided to those of us trying to get a handle on the supply of pigs that will be available in the future.  Death loss data is a feature I, and many others, would like to see included in those details.   

Last week’s federally inspected (FI) slaughter BARELY got over the 2 million mark.  The 2.007 million that moved to U.S. processors was 6.2% lower than one year ago, and about 70,000 head lower than what USDA’s March Hogs and Pigs report would have suggested.  The weekly total was impacted by Easter, as Friday’s total was only 385,000 and Saturday’s was just 1,000.  (See Figure 1).  Holidays at several plants will likely leave Monday’s run far short of one year ago as well, and will result in this week’s total being 6-7% lower than last year, too.

Figure 1

With that said, I must point out that weights are suggesting that producers are behind on their marketing chores and fell even further behind last week. 

I had thought that the 0.4-lb. increase in producer-sold barrow and gilt weights the week of April 12 was a sign that we were catching up a bit on marketings that had been understandably delayed as prices were rising.

Last week’s 1.8-lb. increase (to 219 lb.!!!) flies in the face of that conclusion, and suggests that there are a good number of hogs that need to move in the next few weeks.  Whether those numbers will drive actual slaughter up to the USDA report pace remains to be seen, but I expect some closing of that gap in the short run. 

However, pigs going to harvest this week were born in late October.  The red line in Figure 2 marks that time period and it is clear that we had not gotten to the explosive spread of PEDV by then.    

Figure 2