Global Processing

Pork producer ad blitz no instant cure for flu fears

May 11, 2009
Fears of a global flu pandemic may be subsiding but a big sector in the already battered U.S. food industry will be left reeling for months to come as a result of the scare over "swine flu." The H1N1 virus outbreak that spiked in Mexico in March and spread to the United States and beyond was originally dubbed "swine flu" and the impact on the pork industry was felt almost immediately, according to Reuters. Food safety officials have been clear that people can''t get flu from eating pork. But that''s not necessarily the perception of consumers made jittery by a string food scares that have raked America''s giant agribusiness complex in recent months. Pork sales and prices dropped in the United States while more than a dozen countries rushed to wall off their home markets from pork from infected countries. The pork lobby, part of the politically powerful farm sector, went into high gear and was instrumental in getting everyone from President Barack Obama and world scientific bodies to drop the word "swine" when describing the virus. The Pork Council, which spent years convincing America that pork was "the new white meat," has launched a $1 million media blitz, with one full page ad in major U.S. newspapers saying: "Let''s keep pork -- and all the facts -- on the table." The U.S. food industry has suffered colossal food safety nightmares, including last year''s salmonella outbreak in peanut butter that forced the largest food recall in U.S. history. Peanut butter sales fell 25 percent and are only now recovering. With some 76 million Americans getting sick and 5,000 dying each year from food-borne illnesses, the industry is facing a raft of new controls from the Obama administration. U.S. consumers are quick to shun recalled products and avoid them for months after. Some analysts say it is not surprising that consumers in the United States and around the world worry about the safety of eating pork after the H1N1 virus, despite assurances from official sources. The pork industry was hit last year with record feed prices, 70 percent of a producer''s costs. The flu scare now threatening the survival of some producers, said a spokesman for the Pork Council.