Value of pork industry crisis planning proven by H1N1

by Bryan Salvage
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DES MOINES, IOWA — The value of crisis management became clear to the Pork Checkoff when news of the H1N1 outbreak broke in late April.

"We have action plans and crisis plans that we’ve built in the pork industry during the last decade, and we were able to put those plans to work for producers," said Cindy Cunningham, assistant vice-president of communications for the Pork Checkoff, who stresses H1N1 is not currently in the U.S. swine herd.

When it became clear the H1N1 outbreak had become a significant situation, U.S. pork producers were immediately contacted last spring by e-mail explaining the issue. The message stated what actions needed to be taken on the farm and detailed why enhanced biosecurity protocols should be implemented.

The National Pork Board, the National Pork Producers Council, the U.S. Meat Export Federation and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians responded through a joint effort to address the H1N1 outbreak beyond the farm. The group focused on four goals:

• Reassure U.S. consumers and America’s international trading partners U.S. pork is safe.

• Protect the U.S. swine herd from becoming infected with H1N1.

• Monitor the coverage of H1N1 by the media, social media, government and industry, and supply these organizations with science-based, accurate information.

• Be prepared to protect and defend the U.S. pork industry against unwarranted attacks and allegations.

In an effort to encourage officials to refer to the disease as H1N1 and not "swine flu", the U.S. pork industry worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization and top administrators in the federal government. The Pork Checkoff also supported paid advertising in national publications like the Wall Street Journal and USA Today to assure consumers pork is safe.

Although polling indicated consumer confidence dipped within a few days of the H1N1 outbreak, it quickly rebounded. "This is tremendous and it also shows how the relationships we have with our retail and foodservice partners really come to bear in a situation like this," Ms. Cunningham said.

She added the Pork Checkoff worked diligently with retail and foodservice outlets to help them understand that pork is safe. "We showed them how strong consumer confidence levels were, so they understood that consumers would continue to buy pork," she concluded.

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