A deadly disease is playing havoc with pig producers across North America at the moment, wiping out entire farms and bringing some farmers to the brink of financial ruin.
For consumers, while the downside to a sudden outbreak this winter of a new pig virus is considerably less grim, for those whose summer grilling menus feature ribs or other pork fare, beware – a growing shortage of pork means prices are climbing sharply, experts say.
Indeed, the consumer price index reading for February showed a six per cent jump in pork products compared to last year, as hog prices at U.S. trading hubs have surged.
Prices have been lifted because of an outbreak of PED, or Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea, a disease that has killed off young pigs in droves across the United States since the fall, and has now made its way into several dozen Canadian farms.
The disease has eliminated more than five per cent of the U.S. hog population across 27 states and crossed the border into a handful of Canadian farms earlier this winter, primarily in Ontario.
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There are 38 reported cases of PED in Ontario to date, according to the Canadian Swine Breeders Association, which stressed Tuesday the disease doesn’t pose any risk to humans and affected only young pigs.
But the outbreak is affecting human’s pocketbooks. And the price increases are just getting started, said Grier, a senior market analyst at Guelph, Ont.-based agricultural researcher George Morris Centre.
Current prices haven’t “even begun to factor in the dramatic increases” that are expected in the summer months, Grier said.
The reason is that PED has taken its heaviest toll on the current crop of pigs now being raised for consumption in June and July – peak grilling season — which means prices will be even higher come those two important months of the barbecuing calendar.
U.S. futures prices for those months are fetching around $124 for 100 lbs., Grier said, a 25 per cent jump compared to January prices. U.S. wholesale prices dictate Canadian price, he added.
“It’s the same market. Whatever the price is in the United States, it’s going to be roughly [the] same in Canada adjusted for the exchange rate,” the analyst said.
And that means prices will be heading higher on each side of the border over the coming months.
“The one caveat is competition,” Grier said, referring to the option among grocery chains to shave a few bucks off their own prices to get shoppers through the door.
Thankfully for pork lovers, experts say PED is expected to be contained by the fall and prices should retreat again.
“We’ll continue to ramp things up and put in more prevention strategies so that we’re more prepared next fall when that cold weather starts to come around again,” Amy Cronin, chairperson for Ontario Pork, a trade association, said.
“We’re optimistic we’ll be able to control it.”
She reiterated that the disease is in no way a risk to humans.
“It’s not a human health issue, not a food safety issue,” she said.
“It’s a concern for pork producers most definitely and it may have a ripple effect on prices in the grocery store, but we want to make it really clear that this isn’t a virus that will touch people in any way.”
Except in their pocketbook.
© 2014 Shaw Media