Vilsack: Hog farmers must look to Congress for PED virus help

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 9, 2014 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says there's little USDA can do to compensate hog producers for losses to the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus that's killed millions of piglets since being discovered in the U.S. a year ago.

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While the Farm Bill's Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) is supposed to provide emergency assistance for losses due to disease, among other things, the funds available are capped at $20 million per fiscal year.

“If you were to suggest that that's a source of compensation, it would have to be 10 times that size to deal with the losses that have occurred,” Vilsack told attendees at a meeting of the North American Agricultural Journalists in Washington on Monday. He also said the program is “really focused on sort of niche areas of trees and honeybees.”

Vilsack says it would be up to Congress to approve disaster assistance for pork producers.  But Senate Agriculture Committee member Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, the biggest hog-producing state, said the cost of such a program would make it a tough sell on Capitol Hill.

“I have not heard enough talk among members of Congress on this issue-or even on the ag committee-that I can say that there's a nucleus to move it along,” Grassley said in a weekly news conference.

David Warner, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, said NPPC has asked USDA to use ELAP funds to compensate hog producers who have suffered PEDv losses. To qualify, a producer's adjusted gross income needs to be less than $900,000, so the program would benefit mostly “smaller” farmers, Warner said.

The virus causes severe gastrointestinal symptoms in pigs, and, although older animals usually recover, infected piglets often die. The disease does not affect other species, including humans, and has no effect on pork quality. As we reported in last week's issue of Agri-Pulse, several pharmaceutical and animal health companies are working on vaccines, but none have received official approval yet by USDA.

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