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Since May 2013, a deadly Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PEDv) epidemic has been spreading around the U.S., killing an estimated five million pigs in just 10 months. The virus causes death to more than 80 percent of the piglets it comes into contact with, and although older pigs have a higher survival rate, many have been killed to prevent the spread of disease on farms where it has been contracted. The exact number of deaths is based entirely on industry estimates as individual pig deaths are not required to be accounted for by law.

At the start of March 2014, there had been more than 4,100 confirmed cases of the disease in the U.S., but each case could account for a single pig or an entire herd. The Canadian Swine Health Board also confirmed that there have been cases had been in at least four provinces. You would expect an infectious disease killing millions of lives would have had more mainstream coverage, but the industry is trying to keep it largely under wraps and here’s why.

The Industry Is Playing Down the Impact of the Disease

PEDv is not considered to be a problem to human health, which is the main reason why the industry has been able to get away with such low profile media coverage of this huge epidemic. Farms are allowed to report back to the authorities on the situation with extreme vagueness, exact death figures are never going to be known, and the PR departments of the key players in the industry are brushing over the issue as if it is no big deal.

If just five cases of a disease considered harmful to human health had been reported in the swine industry, there would be a huge media storm, yet because they consider the only effect to be on profit, it’s important for them not to cause public concern about pork products. Industry giants such as Smithfields are claiming that they may lose as many as three million piglets by the end of the year, yet there’s no talk of what a tragedy this is for the millions of pigs becoming violently sick with diarrhea, vomiting, extreme dehydration and eventual death. Instead, there are just panicked discussions on how to combat the disease and prevent financial losses.

All the Public Cares About Is the Rise in Bacon Prices

The public reaction and media coverage of the disease epidemic has been similarly apathetic. The main discussion has been centered around the worry that pork and bacon prices are starting to rise, and that if a suitable vaccine can’t be found soon, the situation is only going to worsen.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “a pound of bacon averaged $5.46 in February, 13 percent more than a year ago,” and this has been blamed on the epidemic. Although the virus is not considered a human health risk, it’s an availability issue since such huge losses of pigs on farms makes it difficult to keep up with demand for pork products. People are more concerned with having to pay a few cents more for their bacon than with the loss of millions of lives due to disease which is breeding and spreading because of the dirty, confined, overcrowded living conditions of these poor animals.

Every Pig Is a Living Thing, Not a Unit of Stock

We need to bring these figures back into reality. Each pig that has died is a life, not a unit of stock. Pigs were not put on this planet for us to confine into tiny cages, fatten up and kill. We have created densely populated factory farms which are conducive to the spread of diseases such as this one, and as a society we have become emotionless to the fact that the animals trapped in this system are living, breathing, feeling beings who no more want to be in there than you or I. Ester the Wonder Pig has millions of fans around the world, people who love and adore her (and rightly so), yet we collectively forget that each one of the five million who have died as a result of this disease are exactly the same as her.

We should not be worried about how PEDv is causing an increase in bacon prices, but instead about how we can move away from this dreadful method of using and abusing animals for our own personal gain.

Image source: A. Sparrow / Flickr