The decision to change the name of the virus – formerly known as swine flu – was announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acting chief Richard Besser and was repeated by others during a news briefing this morning.
“We’re calling it the 2009 H1N1 flu. That’s the name for it,” Besser said while explaining the disease was a new hybrid flu and that people could not catch the virus from eating pork.
The name change was made to address a common myth that the illness was in pigs or pork, neither of which has proven to be true.
In spite of those facts, however, he United States has still lost 10 of its pork export markets.
AMI estimates, based on 2008 numbers, the ban on pork products will cost the U.S. pork industry $710 million annually, or about $13.6 million per week in exports of pork or products while the export bans are in place.
Chris Hurt, Purdue University agricultural economist, says the hit on the pork industry couldn’t come at a worse time.
“This couldn’t get much worse for the pork industry,” he says. “You’ve got other countries starting to follow the lead of Russia and China by limiting their import of our pork. Then there are the consumers worldwide who are linking the word ‘swine’ to pork, even though this influenza strain did not come from swine. And then there’s the world economy in general.”
Hurt observes: “China and Russia represented 27.4% of our pork exports in 2008. Any loss of those sales to those important markets will lower pork prices. May lean hog futures have fallen 8% since Friday (April 24), closing at about $63.30 per hundredweight, or more than $5 lower.
“This is, in essence, the market anticipation of what this flu event means over the next few months. The concerns are that ‘swine flu’ could reduce U.S. pork exports, that U.S. consumers could reduce pork consumption and, more broadly, that the flu could cause a slowing of world economic growth, which would reduce demand for food products in general,” he says.
Repercussions from the H1N1 virus outbreaks are just the latest in a series of challenges for pork producers, Hurt says
“The pork industry has been losing money since the fall of 2007,” he says. “Producers are near breakeven right now. We had hoped that producers would return to profitability by May, but that isn’t likely to happen now.”
The flu outbreak follows sharply rising feed prices in 2007-2008 and the global economic crisis this past fall.
“The pork industry uses 28% of the grains fed to livestock and 23% of the protein meals fed to livestock,” Hurt reports. “If this flu event causes demand for pork to drop, then that means less usage of corn and soybean meal, with downward impacts on those prices, as well.”
But Hurt says producers should not panic as current reactions of humans and markets is often more severe in the short term than the long term.