Factory Farm Model Fails Again—Produces Virus That Has Wiped Out 10 Percent of US Pig Population in One Year

Story at-a-glance -

  • Over the past year, nearly 10 percent of the entire pig population in the US has been wiped out by a highly lethal virus
  • No interstate or trade restrictions in place within the US pertaining to PEDv. It’s also not considered a food safety concern, as it is not transmissible to humans
  • The virus, called Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), has been traced back to pig’s blood used in piglet feed to promote growth and enhance immune function
  • PED virus has traditionally been a relatively mild pathogen. Only recently did it suddenly evolve into a far more aggressive version—with a mortality rate of nearly 100 percent among affected animals

By Dr. Mercola

Did you know that over the past year, nearly 10 percent of the entire swine population in the US has been wiped out by a highly lethal virus? The virus, called Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), has been—at least in part—traced back to pig's blood used in piglet feed.

On June 5, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that a federal order has been issued, requiring swine farmers to notify the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) if they suspect PEDv on their farm. The USDA is also allocating $4 million for research, and the development of a vaccine against the disease.

Dried blood plasma is a relatively new pig feed ingredient, described as a "unique protein source for early-weaned pigs" in a paper1 on swine nutrition by Professor Gary Cromwell.

In recent years, it's been employed as an immune booster, and to enhance the growth rate and feed intake during the postweaning phase. In his paper, Professor Cromwell explains the process as follows:

"Most of the dried plasma is produced by American Protein Corporation, whose headquarters are in Ames, Iowa. This company collects and processes blood from a number of large hog slaughter plants throughout the country.

At these plants, blood is collected in chilled vats and transported by insulated trucks to processing plants where the plasma is separated from the red blood cells. The plasma is then carefully spray dried.

It is then shipped to ingredient suppliers and feed manufacturers throughout the feed industry for use in pig starter feeds. The red blood cells are also dried and shipped to ingredient suppliers and feed manufacturers."

Why the 'Cannibal' Solution Is a Really Bad Idea

It appears this may be yet another example of the inherent dangers of the factory farm model, and why the "cannibal" solution, i.e. feeding animal parts back to the same species of animal tends to be a bad idea.

As you can see, the factory feeding model involves the mixing of animal parts (in this case, blood) from a large number of animals, which is then fed to large numbers of animals—the meat from which in turn are again mixed together in large processing plants, before it's ultimately sold in grocery stores across the nation.

All this mixing and cross-contamination allows for pathogens to contaminate huge amounts of food products, and is the reason why a single food contamination can affect people across multiple states—or in this case, animals across multiple states, even without direct contact between affected farms.

The lethal swine disease first emerged last spring. The first US cases were confirmed in April 2013. As reported by Reuters:2

"Swine veterinarian Bill Minton thought the baby pigs dying at a farm in western Ohio had a bad case of gastro-enteritis and was stumped when lab results came back with no indication of what had killed them.

It took nearly 30 days – and hundreds more pigs dying in five other states - for Minton to learn the farm was ground zero for a virulent, fast-spreading virus that had never been seen before in the United States."

At this point, the pig disease, which causes diarrhea and vomiting, has spread to 30 states.3 Cases of PEDv were also reported in Mexico during the latter part of 2013, and Canada had its first confirmed case in mid-January.4

Since then, the disease has spread to Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, and Quebec as well.5 The PED virus can be transmitted in a number of different ways, including:

  • From pig to pig
  • Via contact with pig manure
  • Via contaminated trucks and other equipment, in the case of the disease spreading from one farm to another

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Finds PEDv in Feed Pellet Ingredient

Since initial outbreaks occurred between farms that had no contact or interaction with each other, investigators were led to look to animal feed as a potential disease vector. In a February 18 statement issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency,6 its investigation into the matter revealed that:

"...PED virus was present in samples of US-origin plasma obtained at the third-party manufacturer for Grand Valley Fortifiers. This plasma was used as an ingredient in feed pellets produced by the company. Testing with a swine bioassay has determined that the plasma ingredient contains PED virus capable of causing disease in pigs." [Emphasis mine]

It's worth noting that there are no interstate or trade restrictions in place within the US pertaining to PEDv.7 It's also not considered a food safety concern, for the fact that it is not transmissible to humans. Still, the fact of the matter is that agricultural overuse of antibiotics have rendered a whole host of pathogens immune to these lifesaving drugs, and continuously promote the mutation of pathogens into ever more virulent strains. Disease promulgation is a major problem inherent of the factory farm model, period.

And, as noted by Dr. Dick Hesse in the following video, the PED virus has traditionally been a relatively mild pathogen. Only recently did it suddenly evolve into a far more aggressive version—with a mortality rate of nearly 100 percent among affected animals!8

Unnatural CAFO Diets Create More Problems Than They Solve

Besides antibiotic overuse, which now poses a MAJOR human health threat, confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) also promote diseases that simply would not occur in the organic model, through the wholly unnatural diets used in the CAFO setting. Using pig plasma and pork meal9 in CAFO pig feed effectively turns these pigs into cannibals—a practice that has a tendency to create problems.

Mad cow disease is another perfect example of this. One of the primary ways mad cow disease is transmitted is when cows are fed bone meal and waste products from other cattle infected with the disease. As a result, it's now illegal to feed beef-based products to cows.

Alas, the beef industry circumvents this rule by using a feed product known as "chicken litter," and that too can introduce this devastating disease into our food system. How's that, you ask? Mad cow disease is still a factor when using chicken litter because this rendered down mix of chicken manure, dead chickens and feathers, is also comprised of nearly one-third spilled chicken feed, which includes cow meat and bone meal used to feed the chickens—the very ingredients that are supposed to be off limits for cows.

So, any cow that eats chicken litter may also be consuming various cow byproducts–the very same feed products that spurred mad cow disease in the first place. Mad cow is now rearing its ugly head again, as a Texas man recently became the fourth victim of the disease. According to a report by ABC News:10

"A Texas man has died after eating meat from a 'mad cow,' making him the fourth person in the United States known to have contracted the ultra-rare form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease... Mad cow is considered an infectious disease, but it's not caused by a virus or bacterium. Rather, it's thought to be caused by an abnormal protein. The wayward protein, known as a prion, causes sponge-like holes in the cow's nervous tissue – a condition formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

If a human eats beef containing the rogue protein – likely contaminated with parts of the cow's nervous system – the human's prion proteins take on the same harmful properties, causing a degenerative, fatal brain disorder known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or vCJD."

Tainted Meat—A Built-In Hazard of the Factory Farm Model

It's important to consider the source of any meat you buy. Virtually all of the meat and poultry (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, etc.) found in your local grocery store comes from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). If it wasn't raised in a factory farm, it will typically bear a clear label stating it's "grass-fed" or "USDA 100% organic."

Large-scale factory farming is the cheapest way to raise meat, thereby allowing for the largest profits. But the ultimate price is high, as there's a complete disregard for human health, the environment, and the ethical treatment of animals in this model. I've briefly mentioned that the routine use of antibiotics has led to the rapid rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs that now threaten human life. Indeed, this is not to be taken lightly. According to a landmark "Antibiotic Resistance Threat Report" published by the CDC,11 2 million Americans become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die as a direct result of those infections.

Research suggests you have a 50/50 chance of buying meat tainted with drug-resistant bacteria when you buy meat from your local grocery store. In some cases, the risk is even greater than that. Last year, using data collected by the federal agency called NARMS (National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System), the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 81 percent of ground turkey, 69 percent of pork chops, 55 percent of ground beef, and 39 percent of raw chicken parts. EWG nutritionist and the report's lead researcher, Dawn Undurraga, issued the following warning to the public:12

"Consumers should be very concerned that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now common in the meat aisles of most American supermarkets... These organisms can cause foodborne illnesses and other infections. Worse, they spread antibiotic-resistance, which threatens to bring on a post-antibiotic era where important medicines critical to treating people could become ineffective."

CAFO's Endanger Human Health in More Ways than One

For a quick review of the hazards of CAFO's, please take a few minutes to watch the video above. It's important to realize that the factory farm system is NOT a system that ensures food safety and protects human health. On the contrary, it makes the food system far more vulnerable to pathogenic contaminations that have the capacity to kill. Processing plant (i.e. plants where meat is cut or milk is pasteurized, for example) are primary culprits when it comes to the spread of pathogens.

Additionally, many of these plants are owned by a small number of companies, and in many cases, larger processors are vertically integrated and also serve as the retailer or brand-name wholesaler. Due to regulations, traditional farmer-to-consumer practices have been outlawed. Now processors run the show and cut out the farmer's share, which has decimated small farmers and created this industrialized mess. According to US Department of Agriculture data:13

  • A mere 14 plants account for the majority (greater than 55 percent) of US slaughter of cattle
  • 12 plants account for the majority of hog slaughter, and
  • Four plants account for the majority of sheep or lamb slaughter

Rethink Your Shopping Habits to Protect Your Family's Health

I believe the movement toward sustainable food and ethical meat is very important, both in terms of human health and animal welfare. Organic, grass-fed and finished meat that is humanely raised and butchered is really about the only type of meat that is healthy to eat. By purchasing your meat from smaller farms that raise their animals in a humane fashion, according to organic principles, you're promoting the proliferation of such farms, which in the end will benefit everyone, including all the animals. The organic industry also tends to favor far more humane butchering practices, which is another important part of "ethical meat." The following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods in your local area that has been raised in a humane, sustainable manner:

  • Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
  • Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
  • Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
  • Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
  • FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.