(Reuters) — Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meat processor, said it expects pork supplies to drop two to four percent this fiscal year, raising wholesale prices, as a deadly pig virus spreads through the U.S. hog belt.
Heavier hogs will offset some of the loss in headcount, Jim Lochner, Tyson’s chief operating officer, said during a conference call after the company’s quarterly earnings release.
Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, a highly contagious and potentially fatal pig virus, has contributed to higher hog prices, which are beginning to eat into pork processors’ profits in that country. Average prices for live sows surged 28 percent in the last year, according to figures released by the United States Department of Agriculture.
“I do want to emphasize information does come out fairly regularly … and we’re just staying on top of it region to region, producer to producer,” Lochner said, referring to the spread of the disease.
Industry analysts estimate up to four million may have died from the virus, but there are no official figures for pig fatalities from the disease. The U.S. hog herd stood at 65.9 million head as of December 2013, U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed.
PED was first discovered in April 2013 in the United States, the world’s the largest pork exporter, and has spread to 23 states and Canada. Transmitted orally and through pig feces, the disease causes diarrhea, vomiting and severe dehydration in the animals, but does not affect humans.
Older pigs have a chance of survival, but the virus kills 80 to 100 percent of piglets that are infected.
Tyson also said it was monitoring the number of sows affected by the virus.