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CME: H1N1 Influenza Not the Same as 'Swine Flu'

by 5m Editor
11 September 2009, at 9:19am

US - On Thursday, the US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsac, made a forceful statement to members of the media that they correctly portray the recent flu outbreak and stop using the misleading "swine flu" label, according to Len Steiner and Steve Meyer.

According to the USDA statement "Swine influenza has been present in the United States for over 80 years, but the 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza virus now circulating among humans is not the same as "swine flu."

The 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza currently circulating among humans is a "novel" flu strain, with a genetic makeup that is unique and has not been seen before in humans, birds or pigs.“ The statement by the Secretary and then a conference call with various members of the media are welcome developments for the US pork industry.

Markets remain anxious about the outlook for pork sales this fall and renewed coverage of the seasonal flu outbreak side by side with pictures and videos of pigs clearly are damaging, and patently unfair. The statement by Secretary Vilsac was strong and left no doubts where USDA stands on this issue.

Unfortunately, most of the mainstream media does not go to USDA with regard to health and disease matters. Both the CDC and FDA websites continue to use the moniker “swine flu“ when referring to the current influenza outbreak. When USDA was asked why other agencies continue to refer to the flu outbreak as "swine flu", the response is that they want the information to show up in search engine results when people look up the term "swine flu".

Will the USDA statement cause people to stop using the "swine flu" label? Not really but that is not the point, the point is to continue to bring up that the label has nothing to do with pigs and pork and hope that over time consumers get the message.

While the flu issue remains a short term factor for US pork demand, US beef demand has been negatively impacted this year not just by slow sales at foodservice but also weaker US beef exports. The most disappointing has been the Korean market, which was the focus of much debate last year.

Sales to Korea rose sharply in Q3 of last year as beef trade resumed. Since then, however, US beef exports to Korea have slowed down, negatively impacting overall beef exports. Weekly shipments of beef muscle cuts to Korea in August were on average 725 MT per week, compared to an average of 3031 MT last year, a 76 per cent decline. Part of the reason for the slower sales is that last year we saw a big rush of orders as Korean buyers were looking to fill the pipeline. Also, the currency has only recently begun to recover. As the bottom chart below shows, for much of this year the Korean won was much stronger vs. the Australian currency (the top supplier of imported beef). A weaker US dollar should be helpful but we have still some ways to go as the Won still is down some 15 per cent since 1 July 2008 vs. the US dollar.