Pork Industry Seeks Help in Response to Flu

Originally labeled as “swine flu,” the H1N1 influenza virus first detected in humans in Mexico before spreading across the globe has taken a financial toll on the U.S. pork industry. While the virus has not been detected in swine in the United States, the negative effects of what initially was misnamed has caused the pork industry to see losses of $7.2 million a day between April 24 and May 1, 2009. The industry was already losing money prior to the outbreak due to a drop in pork demand and lower prices.

The National Pork Producers Council is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help stem the losses pork producers are incurring from the bad publicity. Specifically, the council is asking USDA to:

• Implement a USDA purchase program for $50 million of pork products to help boost cash hog prices. Products can be put into federal emergency food programs, food pantries, senior/elderly feeding programs, hunger programs, and other non-commercial food channels.

• Urge President Barack Obama to work with U.S. trading partners to remove all restrictions on exports of U.S. pork and pork products to maintain U.S. pork export markets around the world.

• Develop a comprehensive surveillance program for swine diseases that will provide an early warning for emerging diseases that affect human and animal health. Mandatory premises and animal identification would be necessary for an effective surveillance program.

• Work to keep open the border between the United States and Canada – even in the wake of pigs on a Canadian pork operation contracting the flu from a contaminated worker – to allow hog movements.

In early May, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack testified about the H1N1 virus before the Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. He shared the impact the initial media attention had on the pork industry over the weekend of April 25-26, when the pork industry encountered a 16.5 percent drop in the average cash base price for hogs. Vilsack also testified that softening demand and declining pork prices have resulted in reduced slaughter rates of 2.3 percent from a year ago.

Vilsack assured the committee that it is safe to consume pork products and that USDA is actively involved in surveillance and vaccine development for swine.

June 2009 RENDER | back