WASHINGTON, Dec. 29, 2013 - Consumers can expect sharp increases in pork prices by summer as a viral disease that first appeared in U.S. swine herds earlier this year continues to ravage pig litters, according to analysts on a teleconference sponsored by U.S. pork producers.

The disease, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) probably killed about 1.4 million piglets in the three months ended Dec. 1 and appears to be ``accelerating’’ in U.S. herds, the analysts estimated, after reviewing the USDA’s quarterly report on the nation’s hog inventory, released on Dec. 27. The reported pig crop for the period was 29.3 million, down slightly from 2012. PED was first confirmed in April, in Iowa, the country’s top hog producer, and has since spread to at least 20 states, according to the USDA.

The hog and pig inventory totaled 65.9 million head as the month began, down about 1 percent from a year earlier, more than analysts were expecting. About 5.76 million sows were being held back for breeding, a drop of 1 percent from a year earlier. Analysts had been expecting expansion, after a drop in corn-based feed prices, which were pushed to record highs by last year’s drought. The average number of pigs per litter during the quarter was up, but only slightly and much less than had been expected.

For more on the quarterly report: U.S. hog herd, breeding inventory fell in latest quarter, USDA says

“We haven’t seen PED coming into the market yet,” Altin Kalo, the chief economist for the Steiner Consulting Group in Manchester, New Hampshire, told reporters on last week’s teleconference. The effects of PED deaths and a smaller hog herd ``are going to hit the market next summer when supplies are seasonably lower,’’ he said.

By the second quarter of 2014 hog prices will be up almost 8 percent from a year earlier, Kalo predicted, averaging about 97 cents per pound in the Iowa-Minnesota region, and up from 84 cents in the first quarter. Prices may start declining in the second half of the year as hog weights increase and more meat comes to market, he said.

Retail pork prices are already near record highs, averaging $3.78 a pound in November, partly because of high energy costs.

PED is not harmful to humans or other species, and meat from hogs that have had the disease is safe to eat. In swine, it causes severe diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration and can be fatal, especially in piglets whose immune system may not be strong enough to fight off the virus. The USDA says there is currently no effective treatment for PED, other than “control of secondary infections.”

As of mid-December, Iowa had 621 confirmed PED cases, the most in the U.S., followed by 268 in North Carolina, 267 in  Oklahoma, 177 in Minnesota and 133 in Kansas, according to the USDA.  Each confirmed case can represent hundreds of infected animals.


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