Industry reiterates that meat even from diseased swine is safe
By TIM HEARDEN
Now that the H1N1 virus has been detected in at least one pig shown at the Minnesota State Fair, the U.S. pork industry is taking the development in stride -- and hoping everyone else will, too.
At least initially, hog futures traders haven't panicked over reports on Monday, Oct. 19 that the USDA confirmed the positive test that signaled the first case of a pig contracting the virus in the United States.
Industry and government officials say they've expected H1N1 to find its way to domestic pigs this year, considering the disease has already infected swine in Canada, Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Norway.
"It's not a surprise to anybody with any knowledge of the situation," said Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics in Adel, Iowa, and a consultant to the National Pork Board.
"I hope (people) yawn," Meyer said. "Obviously we've been concerned about what this might do for some time, but I think we kind of weathered the real storm, which is more and more H1N1 cases in the population in general and all the press that it got. We really haven't seen an impact on the value of our products this fall."
Within hours of the report last week that initial tests showed as many as three pigs had the virus, pork groups issued statements that H1N1 is a respiratory disease and does not affect the meat, so even pork from infected animals would be safe to eat.
"The pigs get the flu, usually from humans," said Dave Warner, spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council. "It works the same way as it does in us. They get sick for a few days, recover and they're fine."
Because the affected pigs were sold at the fair and slaughtered, "we don't even have an active infection among pigs that we know of," Meyer said.
With their words of reassurance issued, all pork producers could do this week was to wait for the world's reaction.
At the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, December lean hogs slipped 0.05 cents on Monday and 1.18 cents on Tuesday, Oct. 20 to 52.87 cents a pound, and February pork bellies edged up 0.1 cent Monday before sliding 1.5 cents on Tuesday to 80.45 cents a pound.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement Monday that USDA officials have begun to reach out to U.S. trade partners and international organizations to emphasize that H1N1, which has been widely referred to as swine flu, cannot be contracted by eating pork products.
Steve Weaver, the National Pork Board's immediate past president and a hog farmer in Elk Grove, Calif., said operations are still using strict biosecurity measures such as limiting humans' contact with pig herds and requiring workers to shower before and after interacting with pigs.
He said he believes that consumers will still trust the safety of pork.
"I think people are taking it in stride," Weaver said. "I think the nice thing is that in April, the market price went down 25 percent in three days, but it has come back up since then. It's been a long, slow struggle, but it's back up.
"People for the most part are understanding that while the disease itself would make us sick, if it gets into the pigs, by eating the meat it's not going to make us sick," he said. "I think reason has prevailed."
Staff writer Tim Hearden is based in Shasta Lake, Calif. E-mail: email@example.com.
Pork producers who want more information about dealing with the H1N1 flu: www.pork.org
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