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Deadly Virus Sparks French Ban On Live Pigs From U.S.

France has banned imports of live pigs and related products from the U.S. and other countries in an attempt to keep a deadly virus that has killed millions of piglets in North America and Asia from spreading. The Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus has spread rapidly since the first U.S. case was reported last year.

The virus has killed pigs in at least 25 U.S. states and parts of Canada. As WBUR's Here & Now reported in March, "The U.S. Department of Agriculture lowered its pork projections for this year, and hog prices recently reached a record high."

France's ban, which covers pigs and products from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Japan, goes into effect Saturday. From Paris, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports for our Newscast unit:

"France is the first E.U. country to restrict imports of U.S. pig products. The ban aims to contain the spread of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus.

"The disease was first identified in the United States almost a year ago, and has killed around 7 million young pigs. As a result, hog supplies are down, causing prices to soar. Agriculture officials suspect that animal feed has been a factor in transmitting the disease in the U.S.

"In France, the focus is on imports of live pigs and feed containing byproducts, such as plasma from pig blood. The French ban does not include pork for human consumption, because the disease does not pose any danger to humans."

The French government says only a small number of live pigs are imported from the U.S. and Canada, according to Le Point. The ban's main target is pig feed.

As the BBC reports, some suspect pig feed of playing a role in spreading the virus. The news agency says efforts to combat it have been complicated by "the use of dried pig blood in feedstuffs that are given to weaned piglets."

Fallout from the virus has sparked outrage and controversy in the U.S. — particularly after a video emerged in February that showed what the Humane Society called a "piglet smoothie" made from infected animals being fed to sows at a farm in Kentucky.

As NPR's The Salt reported, "Hog farmers and veterinarians say that while feeding the guts (or stool) of dead piglets back to sows may sound icky, it's the only option they've got to keep the dreaded PEDV from decimating herds and the whole of the U.S. hog supply."

The PED virus is extremely potent and hard to contain. Here's how Amy Mayer of Harvest Public Media described it in January:

"Since its arrival, PED has been spreading relentlessly, not unlike how a cold can rip through a preschool classroom even if kids are required to wash their hands. PED spreads within barns and from farm to farm, even when strict biosecurity measures — hand-washing for livestock workers — are in place. That's because it can survive in tiny bits of manure that travel on boots or trucks."

According to Reuters, "China, the world's No. 1 pork consumer, and Japan have already imposed 'temporary restrictions' on U.S. pig imports until their ministries reach deals with the United States on testing animals, a trade group said."

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