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Pig virus causing spike in pork prices

CINCINNATI (Paula Toti) -- Pork prices are expected to go up 10-15 percent this summer and a virus is getting most of the blame for killing pigs across the Midwest.

It's the little pigs like the pigs I visited born Tuesday that are at risk for what's going around.  It's called Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea.  "PED" is like the flu but it doesn't hit people and you won't get sick from eating an affected animal.

But it's been devastating to pigs.  Killing millions already and blamed for raising pork prices almost six percent in January.  Like in humans the older pigs get flu like symptoms for a few days and recover.  But the young pigs will die of dehydration.

Bill Neal comes from a family of swine farmers and has seen things like this come and go.  He expects eventually they'll be a vaccine but says Ohio is at about 191 cases of PED right now.

As a director of the Brown County Fair in charge of swines he's been on conference calls with state agricultural folks in Columbus about how to handle things. 

"It's a big deal because you're hauling all these pigs from different farms and they commingle.  If one has it the rest will catch it," said Neal.

So the pigs that get to the fair might have to go straight to market and faster in the food chain and restaurant chain.

At Eli's BBQ in the east end people waited 30 minutes Tuesday night for pulled pork take-out.  Owner Elias Leisring says he's not raising the price on his five dollar sandwiches.

"We're a volume driven business, as long as we're busy we're doing what we need to do," Leisring said.

And Neal says it will take a lot to raise the price on the famous pork sandwiches at the fair.  But for this year, pork prices are on the rise as the PED virus spreads.

Neal said, "Any pig lost now won't see the shortage for six months but we're already seeing some shortage from high feed prices and the drought from a year and a half ago."

While the pork industry worries consumers will start turning more to chicken, Neal says there's nothing like pork and consumers may get a break at National Restaurant Chains that were slow because of a cold winter.  They want customers to return and can't jack up prices on pulled pork. 

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