SALEM, Ohio — Pork producers’ hopes for a profitable year are falling, as pork demand falls across the globe.
Despite no scientific basis so far, bans imposed on U.S. pork have been issued by Russia, China, Ukraine, St. Lucia, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Honduras, Croatia and Kazakhstan.
In 2008, pork exports across the globe accounted for more than 20 percent of total U.S. pork production, according to the National Pork Producers Council.
“The market is definitely being affected. We are hopeful that the ban is temporary,” said Dick Isler, executive vice president for the Ohio Pork Producers Council.
Since the ban was instituted by 11 countries last week, the price in Ohio has dropped 6 1/2 cents per pound, according to Isler.
“That’s a 15 percent drop just from last week,” Isler said.
Lean hog prices May 4 dipped as low as $55.50 per hundredweight, compared to prices of $73.50 a month ago.
Costs add up
The National Pork Producers Council is estimating the decline has cost the national pork industry nearly $2.5 million a day.
Chris Hurt, agricultural economist at Purdue University, estimates anywhere from a quarter to a third of U.S pork producers will be forced to consider leaving the industry.
Hurt said U.S. hog producers have experienced three traumatic events in the past year and this last outbreak dubbed the “swine flu” from the onset may be the final blow to force them out of business.
He added pork producers have suffered a trying year with record high grain prices last summer, a world financial crisis this fall and now the flu outbreak.
Going to work
Isler said the National Pork Producers Council is hoping that the name change from swine flu to H1N1 helps steer consumers back into the marketplace.
He added that the group is talking with members of the Obama administration to get the markets across the globe re-opened. He said administration is working with embassies around the world and the U.S. trade ambassador to get the markets open as soon as possible.
Ban is smokescreen
Many pork producers are hoping the restrictions are short lived since authorities have made it clear the H1N1 virus is transmitted through human contact and is an airborne pathogen and not transmitted through meat.
“So many countries imposed such bans because they are already experiencing difficulties with meat producers due to the general economic downturn,” said Luther Tweeten, professor emeritus of agricultural trade and policy at Ohio State University.
“They are not allowed by international rules from restricting imports without a scientific basis, and they are just using the swine flu situation to do what they really wanted to do in the first place.”
“However, there is no scientific basis to restrict imports because swine flu is not transmitted through pork and pork products. The World Trade Organization will probably come down on them, if nobody else does first.”
Food safety experts say this strain of influenza is not transmitted by eating pork and there is no evidence that it is present in U.S. pigs.
In Canada, however, a human-to-pig transmission is being investigated. According to the National Pork Board, pigs in an Alberta pork operation contracted an H1N1 virus from a worker who recently visited Mexico.
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