By Ros Krasny
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. senators urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve disaster assistance for small pork producers affected by a deadly virus that has killed more than four million pigs across the United States in the past year.
Democrats Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, the number two U.S. hog producer, also urged increased research to find a vaccine for Porcine Endemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv), for which no treatment currently exists.
"Pork producers that have been impacted by PEDv face economic devastation," the senators wrote in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, dated March 11 and released on Thursday.
"If this disease persists, pork herds will continue to diminish and producers risk going out of business," they said.
PEDv causes diarrhea, vomiting and severe dehydration in pigs. It has a reported mortality rate of 80 to 100 percent for piglets under two weeks old; older pigs have a better chance of recovery.
Cases have been increasing recently across the U.S. farm belt. There have been 4,458 confirmed outbreaks of PEDv in 27 states, according to figures from the USDA's National Animal Health Laboratory Network released on Thursday. Arizona became the latest state to report the virus.
The virus has also been found in four Canadian provinces.
Pork processors have been finding it more difficult to buy hogs for slaughter, and this has started to filter through the supply chain.
A top official from Tyson Foods Inc said on Wednesday that the virus was likely to result in higher pork prices, as meat producers pass along to consumers their increased input costs.
(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Sandra Maler)