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Mysterious Pig Virus Concerns Environmentalists

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PED (Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea) sign informing public that the virus has been found on this North Carolina pig farm. Photo Courtesy of Waterkeeper Alliance.
PED (Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea) sign informing public that the virus has been found on this North Carolina pig farm. Photo Courtesy of Waterkeeper Alliance.
 By Monique Coppola, Public News Service - NC, Contact
July 17, 2014

NEW BERN, N.C. – Pigs continue to die in large numbers in North Carolina, and while pork producers work to stop the virus that's killing the animals, environmentalists are working to make sure the carcasses are disposed of properly.

Larry Baldwin, the concentrated feeding operation coordinator in North Carolina for the Water Keeper Alliance, says the virus known as PED (porcine epidemic diarrhea) has killed an estimated 2.3 million pigs in the state since it first showed up in June of last year.

He says there is a lack of transparency from the pork industry and a lack of state regulations regarding the disposal of the dead pigs.

"What we have seen to some degree in North Carolina is improper burial,” he maintains. “We've had a couple of facilities that we have documented from the air where the burial pits were left open for days.

“The animals were laying in the groundwater. You could see vultures and other birds of prey that were feeding on these animals."

Baldwin says the Water Keeper Alliance, in conjunction with eight of the state's River Keeper organizations, sent a letter to state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler requesting that he inform the public about the scope of the problem, as well as regulate and oversee the swine industry's handling of the dead animals.

Baldwin maintains the response from the commissioner's office was dismissive and vague.

There are about 2,500 pig farms in North Carolina.

Baldwin says improper burial of the pigs is a big concern for the eastern part of the state because the groundwater is very close to the surface, which means you don't have to dig down too far to get your drinking water from a well.

"So you're throwing the hogs in the ditch, they're decomposing and now that's actually going into the groundwater,” he points out. “So you've got the nutrients from the dead hogs that are now going into the groundwater. "

The PED virus kills primarily piglets and has spread to more than 4,500 farms in 30 states.

The good news, says Baldwin, is that there is no evidence the disease can be spread to humans.


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