Putting pork back in the market

by MEAT&POULTRY Staff
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As the ship of commerce now sails steadily on after the brief but intense H1N1 storm, how blows the wind for U.S. pork exports? In gusts, it seems.

Some bans on U.S. (and Mexican) pork remain in place even though, nearly from the start of the "swine flu" crisis, scientific authorities were careful to point out that the flu, caused by the H1N1 virus, could not be transmitted through pork or caught by eating pork. According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation’s May 13 market update, Russia has added Wisconsin to the list of states, which now totals 11, that are no longer certified to ship pork in one form or another to Russia due to H1N1 worries. China has also banned pork in various forms from several states, and seven countries have banned all U.S. pork, though these tend to be small-volume importers (e.g. Armenia, Ukraine). The U.S. Meat Export Federation has compiled another list of 12 countries "that have been reported as ready to impose full or partial suspensions, but for which trade has not been officially suspended."

In some markets – Bolivia is one – reports indicated that a ban on U.S. pork was imminent but no ban has been announced to date. Costa Rica and Korea have increased screening and inspection of imported pork but have not instituted bans. Ecuador and some small markets in the Middle East have removed previously short-term bans.

The global consumer reaction to the H1N1 influenza situation "has been mixed," noted USMEF spokesman Joe Schuele in an e-mail to MEATPOULTRY.com. "Most markets experienced at least a modest interruption in pork sales in the early stages of the outbreak, but consumer fears were eased when public health officials reassured them about the safety of pork. In Mexico, where the outbreak was most pronounced, a very noticeable decline in pork demand took place and, combined with a major disruption in retail and restaurant activity in general, made for a very difficult business environment. USMEF is now providing consumers, retailers and distributors with pork safety information in a concerted effort to rebuild demand. We are optimistic that pork demand will rebound, but it could take some time to work through backed-up inventories and for product flow to return to normal."

Schuele added that pork safety information has been made available to retailers and distributors in other export markets as well. "In most cases the consumer reaction has been modest and short-lived, but USMEF is watching all markets carefully and remains ready to counter any misinformation or misperceptions about the safety of pork," he wrote. "For those markets that are closed to U.S. pork or to exports from particular states, USMEF is working with U.S. and local trade officials to restore market access as quickly as possible."

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