In a letter this week to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Sen. Al Franken requested improved agency efforts to prevent further expansion of the deadly Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus and to provide help to producers already hit by the disease.
In the letter, Franken pressed for USDA to provide relief to producers already hit by the virus and to work with other federal agencies that may be able to bring resources to effectively address the PED crisis.
The Minnesota Senator explained his state has a significant battle to fight – and plenty to lose if the virus isn't controlled.
"Minnesota ranks third in nationwide pork production, so we have a large stake in moving quickly before the PED virus further devastates our producers' herds," Franken said in a statement. "I want the USDA and any other federal agency that can help stop the spread of this virus to take action now and help safeguard our producers' livelihood."
The letter follows a similar request for disaster assistance from Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., presented to the Secretary in mid-March.
Despite the requests, Vilsack told journalists Monday that livestock disaster assistance programs are mostly for dodging the impacts of Mother Nature.
"Our disaster assistance programs really are not specifically geared for this type of circumstance," Vilsack said. "The Livestock Indemnity Program is really designed when Mother Nature causes a problem. The Livestock Forage Program is designed when there just simply isn't enough forage," he said.
The program, he explained, is focused on niche areas like trees and honeybees. "There's only $20 million in that account and if you were to suggest that that's a source of compensation, it would have to be 10 times that size to deal with the losses that have occurred," he said.
Vilsack estimates that PEDV has already cost 5 million piglets, and while the agency won't be providing disaster assistance, he says there are other ways it is helping.
"We are working with the industry to develop best practices in terms of what you do if you in fact, unfortunately have this epidemic," Vilsack said.
Vilsack said he is willing to make the virus available to research groups to use in developing a vaccine that could eventually be created to fight the virus.
While the exact origin of the virus is unknown, Vilsack said the situation underscores a need for livestock groups and the USDA to discuss how expanding global trade may be raising the chances of foreign disease entry into the U.S., and how to mitigate those problems.
For a producer's perspective on the PEDV issue and a look at biosecurity measures, check out Indiana Prairie Farmer contributor Jennifer Campbell's story: Controlling PEDV Involves Full-Farm Commitment, Hard Decisions