Mysterious Culprit That Killed 7 Million Pigs Finally Revealed: It Was Tote Bags

Illustration for article titled Mysterious Culprit That Killed 7 Million Pigs Finally Revealed: It Was Tote Bags

Yes, reusable tote bags may be good for making us feel smug in the grocery store check-out. But the USDA just traced a deadly virus that has killed millions of pigs to an unlikely culprit: tote bags. Not feeling so good about that tote bag now, are you?

Last year, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus killed 7 million pigs but, although they knew what it was, how it was spreading remained unclear. So the USDA launched an extensive investigation into just where the virus was managing to make its way to farms, looking at 17 different scenarios, including Bad lab protocols, Hidden in pet treats, and Maybe birds are doing it somehow?

It turned out, though, that it was neither birds nor pet foods nor labs. It was tote bags, or, as the USDA terms them, “Flexible Intermediate Bulk Containers.”


It makes sense when you think about it. Resuable tote bags on farms aren’t quite the same as the ones you have on hand. For starters they’re bigger, capable of holding up to 3,000 pounds. They are also incredibly sturdy and long-lasting.

This means they go everywhere on farms and they hold everything—and cleaning between uses, if it happens at all, is usually pretty light. They are also true multitaskers, used not just on farms, but also for transporting stuff between different farms, manufacturing plants, and shipping ports between countries. And once a tote bag gets to one place, it tends to stay in that place and get used—until something needs to get sent away. And then it, and the tote bag that holds it, find a new farm to hit.

Image: Janecat / Shutterstock

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Just to give everyone a better idea of what we’re talking about:

In other words, not that cute thing in which you carry home organic rucola.