As slaughterhouses close, a new novel coronavirus from pigs looms

Smithfield Foods, the nation’s largest pork producer has closed its Sioux Falls, SD, slaughterhouse after 238 Smithfield employees grew sick, according to South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.

Smithfield brands include Armour, Berlinki, Carando, Cook’s, Curly’s, Eckrich, Farmland, Gwaltney, Healthy Ones, John Morrell, Krakus, Kretschmar, Margherita, Morliny, Nathan’s Famous, Pure Farmland and Smithfield.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Tyson Foods closed its Columbus Junction, Iowa, pork slaughterhouse.

While many U.S. slaughterhouses are closing, pork slaughterhouses and pork producers are bracing for another coronavirus challenge: a virus called Severe Acute Diarrhea Syndrome or SADS-CoV that also originated in China and targets pigs. Like SARS, MERS and COVID-19, SADS-CoV is bat-originated and hosted by an eaten animal.

Two years ago, it was identified by Chinese and U.S. researchers as it was triggering die-offs in piglets on Chinese farms in Guangdong province. In 2018, SADS-CoV had already killed 24,693 piglets on four Chinese farms.

While mainstream media have largely ignored the novel coronavirus, the U.S. pork industry has been working toward a test for the threat of SADS-CoV.

According to Farm Journal Ag Web:

“In 2018, Swine acute diarrhea syndrome coronavirus (SADS-CoV), related to the bat coronavirus HKU2, was associated with severe outbreaks of diarrhea with high mortality rates in pigs in China. Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) and porcine delta coronavirus (PDCoV) are closely related to SADS-CoV, according to the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) newsletter.

Following devastating outbreaks of PEDV and PDCoV in the U.S., the swine industry was concerned with a potential outbreak of SADS-CoV. If SADS-CoV were to enter the U.S. the industry needs to be prepared to implement control strategies to mitigate the disease’s impact on pork producers, the article says. To do so, SHIC is supporting the development of rapid diagnostic tools for timely detection of SADS-CoV nucleic acid and/or antigens in clinical samples.”

Previous U.S. PEDV epidemic hidden from public

Porcine epidemic diarrhea or PEDV which devastated U.S. pork producers pigs in 2013 and 2014 was largely hidden from food consumers and the public reported National Geographic but it killed at least 7 million pigs U.S. Few photos of disposal of the dead pigs were shown no doubt to keep the public from being alarmed about the rapidly spreading, lethal coronavirus and the trust of pork consumers.

The scourge was so relentless, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) caught a Kentucky farm that lost 900 piglets within a two-day period feeding dead pigs to other pigs in an attempt to induce “immunity” in survivors.

The closely related SADS-CoV “causes severe and acute diarrhea and vomiting among piglets, leading to their deaths due to rapid weight loss within days,” reported Genomeweb. “Infected piglets five or fewer days old had a mortality rate of 90 percent, while older piglets had better outcomes.”

PEDV also invaded Italy where it circulated as a recombinant strain, reported Emerging Infectious Diseases. It is likely that PEDV, widely seen as similar to SADS-CoV, had “been circulating in Italy and likely throughout Europe for multiple years but … underestimated as a mild form of diarrhea,” reports the journal.

Can the pig-hosted SADS-CoV jump to humans?

In 2018, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy reported that pork workers exposed to pigs with SADS-CoV had not caught the virus. Yet Dr. Paul Sundberg, executive director of the Swine Health Information Center, told National Hog Farmer coronaviruses can and do mutate quickly.

They can jump from species to species and certainly that’s been the U.S. pork experience with coronaviruses,” he says. “TGE [transmissible gastroenteritis virus] is a coronavirus. Then in 2013, we got PEDV [porcine epidemic diarrhea virus], which is another one and deltacorona virus is the third. There’s another coronavirus in China right now, called Severe Acute Diarrhea Syndrome or SADS-CoV, that we are watching and developing a diagnostic test, to make sure that we can find it should it get here.”

Certainly SARS, originated in bats but hosted by civet cats, and MERS, originated in bats but hosted by dromedaries, put no pork producers at ease about SADS-CoV.

Will SADS-CoV become another surprise epidemic?

Many in the U.S. blame lawmakers and the administration for not acknowledging the COVID-19 virus earlier and preparing for its pandemic. But mainstream media was also greatly remiss. While international and Chinese-based media reported on the virus’ existence in December 2019 and earlier, mainstream media reports trickled in around February and March, no earlier than lawmaker actions.

The same scenario is occurring with SADS-CoV. While the scientific press and the pork industry are reporting on what could be a new, novel coronavirus epidemic, internet searches last week on Reuters, the Associated Press, the New York Times and Bloomberg found no entries whatsoever about SADS-CoV!

Given what is known about the ability of novel viruses like SARS and MERS to enact recombination and the sudden closing of pork slaughterhouses, shouldn’t a novel, pork-based coronavirus like SADS-CoV be acknowledged?

Martha Rosenberg is a freelance journalist and the author of the highly acclaimed “Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health,” published by Prometheus Books. Check her Facebook page.

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