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Global Hog Markets Suffer from Unfair Concerns

by 5m Editor
5 May 2009, at 9:18am

GLOBAL - Health officials assure consumers that pork is safe to eat and no victims in the current flu outbreak had contact with hogs, but neither fact has protected market prices or import restrictions on Mexican and US pork products. Canada too is doing its part in assuring pork producers that measures are being taken to support them. Meanwhile, in the UK, Environment Secretary backs British pork farmers.

Even if health organizations succeed in changing the name, much of the world always will consider the H1N1 virus to be “swine flu.”

John Anderson, agricultural economist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said May futures closed around $69 per hundredweight on 24 April. Then news of the flu outbreak grew significantly over the 25-26 April weekend, and prices took a nose-dive when markets opened that Monday.

“The market’s been falling apart because of the H1N1 virus. The prices dropped basically $10 per hundredweight within the first four days of the outbreak,” Professor Anderson said. “The market wasn’t great before the scare started. Profit margins had producers losing $10-$20 per head before this started, so take another $20 off their profits after the first week of news hitting the media.”

The economist said other markets also suffered in the first days after flu reports in the media escalated. Cattle and grain futures dropped initially but recovered in the following days.

“The long-term impact will depend on how extensive the flu outbreak becomes, but it could impact all meat and grain markets. If people change their habits of eating out, consumption of all meat products could suffer,” Professor Anderson said. “The import restrictions should be short-lived since there is no science-based justification for them. Some countries just look for opportunities to hurt the U.S. markets.”

Extension swine specialist Mark Crenshaw said the state produces just under 500,000 hogs each year. Even though there have been no U.S. swine infected with the virus, he said swine producers continue to be careful to maintain biosecurity measures on their farms.

“They are being especially careful to keep workers who are sick away from the animals,” Dr Crenshaw said. “Managers may want to monitor ventilation and be sure they are following proper stocking rates to help prevent respiratory infections. Review health records to make sure routine vaccinations for the influenza virus are up to date for the animals.”

Dr Crenshaw said farms should be limiting or prohibiting visitors and definitely avoiding international visitors during this time. If producers observe any respiratory illness in pigs, they should contact a swine veterinarian immediately.

“Workers need to maintain proper hygiene with shower-in, shower-out practices. They need to wear the same boots only on the farm and not off the farm,” he said. “These are good practices that most farms follow even when there is not a flu outbreak.”

In Canada, Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz yesterday issued a statement regarding the impact of the H1N1 influenza.

Minister Ritz said he has spoken to China’s ambassador, Lan Lijun, to reiterate that Canadian pork is safe. He also strongly encouraged Ambassador Lan Lijun to ensure than China bases trade decisions on sound science.

"We will continue to stand up for Canadian pork producers and ensure that they are treated fairly by China and all members of the World Trade Organization," the Minister said.

"I have spoken to American Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to make our American neighbours aware of the situation. He has assured me that Canadian hog producers will continue to have access to the American market. We will continue to work with our American partners as we deal with this issue," he said.

Minister Ritz said the Canadian government will continue to work closely with Canadian pork producers to make sure they have the support they need.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn visited a pig farm in Suffolk on Thursday 30 April before meeting pig farmers and other representatives from the sector for a roundtable discussion on the current flu outbreak.

Hilary Benn was shown the practical biosecurity measures that pig farmers are taking to minimise disease risks and he highlighted that there is currently no evidence that this type of flu has been found in pigs in the UK.

"This flu has not been found in pigs in the UK. We have a routine surveillance programme to detect the presence of any new animal diseases and this new strain of human flu has not been detected," he said.

He said the UK pig industry has shown real leadership on biosecurity and it is supporting the continuing surveillance programme.