Under the Microscope: Drought, PED vaccines

Jun 27, 2014

Credit Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently announced $3.9 million in funding toward developing a vaccine for a disease crushing hog farms.

The money is meant to combat porcine epidemic diarrhea virus or PEDV. The virus doesn’t pose a threat to humans, but does cause high mortality in piglets.

Speaking in Des Moines, Iowa, Vilsack says there’s still a lot to learn about PEDV.

“I can’t confidentially standup here and tell you that we know precisely where this came from,” he said. “I will tell you that we are taking a look at how we might more effectively track animal human activity, fed, a number of other items that could potentially be an origin and a reason.”

Additional USDA funding will go towards biosecurity, research, management and diagnostic testing for the virus.

Now, the federal government has given conditional approval to the first vaccine licensed to fight the deadly virus.

The USDA gave conditional approval last week to a vaccine produced by Iowa-based Harrisvaccines. The vaccine is being used mostly to boost immunity in sows that have had the disease so they can better pass on antibodies to their young.

Company spokesman Joel Harris said that one challenge is immunity to PEDV doesn't seem to last like it does with many viruses. He says it might last only a few months.

Other companies also have been working on vaccines.

According to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, agricultural workers in the United States are three point six times more likely to die by suicide than the general population.

Wendy Riggenberg recently compiled a study on farm death at the University of Iowa. She says the prevalence of suicide has likely been under estimated. Previously, some studies estimated that farm workers are twice as likely to take their own lives.

“It was surprising, but at the same time, I think it really brings home the point that yes, there is an issue here,” she said. “We need to be looking into this much more in depth and we need to be looking and planning and funding for interventions.”

According to the OSHA data, there are also regional differences regarding farm violence. In the Midwest, farmers are more likely to die by suicide. In the south, farmers are less likely to die by suicide but more likely to commit homicide.

Much of the Plains Wheat Belt has been battling drought. And this year’s winter wheat crop looks like it will be one of the worst in recent memory. As Ariana Brocious reports for Harvest Public Media, that has farmers across the Midwest.