TURLOCK — The cows, the sheep, the goats, the rabbits and the chickens were all on hand as usual for Friday’s opening of the Stanislaus County Fair.
But one group is missing this year.
Newborn piglets are not being allowed, due to a virus that has killed millions of them across the country and caused a spike in pork prices.
Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PED, prompted the decision, said fair spokeswoman Adrenna Alkhas.
“We’re still doing the swine show. That’s not affected,” she said. “But we aren’t using the piglets, the newborns.”
Though they make for a cute display, newborn piglets are not part of any competitions, so the 4-H and FFA members who have been working to raise and show pigs won’t be affected.
And fairgoers can still get a dose of cute piglets on display in the 4-H Farmyard Experience. Alkhas explained that those piglets are 8 to 10 weeks old. The virus is nearly 100 percent fatal in piglets less than 10 days old, which don’t have the immune systems to fight it. There is no proven vaccine for it.
The California State Fair, which also got underway Friday, announced a similar restriction.
County and state fairs across the country are taking similar precautions as farmers struggle to manage the virus, which is believed to have originated in China and was discovered in the United States in May last year.
The disease attacks the lining of the intestines and causes severe diarrhea. Spread through fecal matter, it doesn’t affect humans or other animals and doesn’t endanger pork consumers, according to veterinary specialists.
But it has caused crushing losses to farms across the country, particularly in the Midwest, said Dave Warner of the National Pork Producers Council. At least 27 states, including California, have been affected. As a result, pork prices are on the rise. Store prices have risen by almost 10 percent in the past year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Warner said they are likely to climb higher.
“By August or September, we will probably see a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction” in animals to be slaughtered, compared with 2013, he said. “So you’re probably going to see a significant increase in prices at the retail level.”
It’s not the first time animals have been banned from the Stanislaus County Fair. In 2003, an outbreak of Newcastle disease prompted fair officials to cancel live poultry shows.
The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.