National TV program reiterates pork safety, industry woes
By TIM HEARDEN
Pork industry leaders went on national television this week to reassure producers and consumers as the H1N1 virus and high input costs have devastated the industry.
In a program called "RFD Live: A Conversation About Pork," National Pork Board chief executive officer Chris Novak said the organization is aggressively marketing to young consumers while urging the media not to refer to H1N1 as swine flu.
He unveiled a new 30-second TV commercial that portrays pork as a versatile food fit for meals and snacks alike, and he discussed a public relations campaign involving former NFL player Emmitt Smith and others.
"The board's focus has been on increasing demand, and yet we recognize that's a slow process," Novak said.
Novak made his comments during a live call-in program Monday, Oct. 12, on RFD-TV, a national cable and satellite network that focuses on agriculture. He was joined on a panel by agricultural economist Steve Meyer, pork board scientist Paul Sundberg and Oklahoma pork producer Wathina Luthi.
Sundberg said numerous health organizations have declared the pork is safe to eat, explaining that the virus is respiratory and wouldn't affect the meat even if it did get into pigs.
"One of the important points about H1N1 ... (is) it's a human-to-human transmission," Sundberg said. "It started through people and is transmitting through people."
The Pork Checkoff-sponsored program came as H1N1, high input costs and favorable pig-raising conditions in the Midwest have been blamed for pork producers' losses of about $1.1 billion over the past six months.
In the spring, the H1N1 outbreak caused U.S. consumer demand for pork to drop temporarily before leveling off in the summer, and some U.S. trading partners such as China and Russia used the crisis as a reason to close their markets to American pork.
While reassuring producers and consumers, the National Pork Board is also urging farm personnel and others who have contact with pigs to get regular flu shots as well as H1N1 vaccinations to reduce the chance that humans will infect animal herds.
Meyer said pig producers have lost money in 22 of the past 24 months after making money in 43 of 44 months from 2004 to 2007.
Losses over the past two years have robbed hog operations of much of the equity they had built up during the boom, he said. He blamed much of the recent slump on ethanol production, which he said has driven up the cost of feed.
However, while the tough times may push some producers out of the business and will likely reduce herd sizes, Meyer said the industry will survive.
"This is not going to destroy the U.S. pork industry," he said. "We're going to still have a pork industry that's viable and profitable. It's probably going to be smaller."
Staff writer Tim Hearden is based in Shasta Lake, Calif. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Information about the seasonal and H1N1 flu viruses is at www.flu.gov.
* Biosecurity protocols for pork operations can be found at www.pork.org under H1N1 in the Spotlight area.
* The Pork Checkoff fact sheet "Influenza: Pigs, People and Public Health" is at www.pork.org/porkscience, under public health.