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Hog markets suffer from unfair concerns
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- 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 U.S. pork products.
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 April 24. Then news of the flu outbreak grew significantly over the April 25-26 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,” 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,” 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,” 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.”
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.”