Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea is likely not at the forefront of poultry producers' minds, but maybe it should be. Christine McCracken, senior research analyst for the Cleveland Research Company, told an audience at the USPOULTRY Financial Management Seminar the disease that was first reported in the United States in May could cause a shortage of pork products and lead consumers to seek poultry as an alternative.

The disease was first diagnosed about 40 years ago in Great Britain. Since then there have been sporadic outbreaks in Europe, and it has been an endemic pig disease in Asia since 1982. Since it was first reported in Iowa in May, as many as 200 herds have been affected by the disease 13 states. Because the majority of the nation's hog production is housed in the affected states, and so little is known about treating the disease, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea's threat to the pork industry is serious.

"Right now, it is relatively small, but its impact could be huge. If there's a lot less pork out there, consumers will turn to poultry," McCracken said. "That's the opposite of what we were expecting. We were expecting there to be a lot of pork."

The disease, new to the United States, remains an enigma. Producers don't know how it spreads, McCracken said, but some think it may be airborne. And the disease has the potential to have a 100 percent mortality rate in farrowing barns, according to McCracken.

The swine industry had been moving into a major expansion phase, McCracken said, as hog producers were managing risks well. But when the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea scare hit, the pork industry's expansion potential was essentially eliminated, McCracken said.

Poultry poised to overtake pork as leading global protein

While the latest disease challenge for the pork industry can help give poultry a boost, poultry is already gaining momentum in the competition for global protein consumption. Presently, pork is the leading animal protein consumed worldwide, but poultry is quickly gaining, McCracken said.

Advertisement

Poultry is presently the most consumed protein in the United States, but it still trails pork on a worldwide scale. According to figures she obtained from the USDA, worldwide poultry consumption was just under 14 kilograms in 2005, compared to pork's global per capita consumption of around 15.5 kilograms. However, projected figures for 2030 show that per capita consumption of pork will back off to just a little more than 15 kilograms, while poultry's will grow to beyond 17 kilograms.

McCracken said more consumers are moving to chicken in other countries because it is less expensive than other proteins, plus access to poultry is growing in some countries where there was less access.

Global demand for poultry offers challenges in domestic production

As the demand for poultry grows worldwide, McCraken posed the underlying question of who is going to produce it.

"Is it going to be a U.S. product that's exported, and if so, how do we think about the demands of that customer base relative to our own? Or is it going to be produced there," she said.

If poultry production picks up in other parts of the world, McCracken said the biggest concern for the U.S. poultry industry will be one it has already been dealing with in 2012 and 2013 - feed supplies. Despite, anticipated increases in global corn and soybean supplies later in 2013, other countries that produce both feed products and poultry are more likely hold onto their feed inventories.

"Our grain flows are going to change. We need to be worried about grain availability as production of chicken increases," she said.