Pork and Covid-19

Many of us around the world have been worried about the infection of our food supply with the novel Corona Virus known as Covid-19. Nowhere is this concern greater than in the pork industry!

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Corona viruses are not new to the pork industry. Pigs have been infected with their own pandemics for many years. The most recent corona virus infection of the US hog industry was the Porcine epidemic virus (PEDV) (1). This variant of the current corona virus was incredibly lethal – killing nearly 100% of the baby pigs that contracted it.

We know that the corona viruses that infect animals can mutate to become infectious to humans quickly and easily. And in fact, many will be much more deadly than the current form of the Covid-19 virus. The MERS corona virus that jumped from camels to humans killed 35% of those infected! (2) If the next corona virus that mutates has that kind of mortality combined with the infectious rate of Covid-19, the death toll will be unimaginable.

But in the current pandemic – how dangerous is our meat supply? The short answer is that the authorities won’t tell us, so we have to assume its not good. We know that those who work in the slaughter houses are in very close proximity to one another, and that their infection rate has been off the charts. The corporate heads who own these facilities refuse to provide details on the numbers infected, but have been forced to close the plants by the massive scale of the outbreaks in so many of their facilities. (3) So we know without doubt that the facilities are heavily infested with this deadly virus, and we know those who are infected have been handling the pork products produced – ham, bacon, sausage, pork chops etc have all been handled by workers infected by the virus – of this we can be sure.

There are two options – both concerning. One is that the virus is on the surface of the meat and that bringing pork products into our home, or eating less than perfectly prepared pork products at restaurants will leave us or our families infected. The CDC has tutorials on how to disinfect meat that has been infected, (4) but the instructions must be very carefully followed to avoid infecting you or your family.

The other, even more frightening possibility is that hogs themselves are the vectors, and that their flesh and blood are infected. This is particularly alarming because it means everything from breakfast McMuffins to bacon to our dog and cat food could contain the virus.

There are a number of observers who have noted the link between the Covid-19 virus in humans and the hog populations of China. The market where the virus broke out was a pig market as well as a sea food market. And the virus spread very rapidly through the region of China that produces the most hogs – see maps below.

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So we know the novel Corona virus that is killing hundreds of thousands around the world is one of many corona viruses that infect animals and that evolved to jump from animal populations to humans. We know the particular animal that this virus emerged from is as of yet officially “unkown”. And we know pigs can be infected with the virus, just as they have become infected with many other corona virus variants.

We know too that the slaughter houses that kill these animals are filled with workers who are themselves infected with Covid-19. And we know they have been in close contact with the flesh of the animals as they are cut up for shipment to stores and restaurants, or sent to the rendering plants for dog and cat food. So there is little doubt the meat itself has been contaminated with this disease.

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1. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/24/7/17-2077_article

2. https://www.who.int/emergencies/mers-cov/en/

3. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/26/business/meat-processing-plants-coronavirus/index.html

4. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/keep-food-safe.html