DENVER -- Mexico was the global pacesetter for U.S. pork exports through the first four months of 2009 – totaling more than 390 million lbs. valued at $265 million, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. Although this is a 61% increase in volume and a 50% increase in value over the same period last year, these results do not reflect the impact of the H1N1 influenza crisis that hit the country in mid-to-late April.

In order to keep this year’s strong momentum going in this critical market, the U.S. pork industry is now looking for a quick rebound in pork demand in Mexico.

"We’ve done consumer survey work in the retail area where a lot of the pork is sold," said Chad Russell, U.S.M.E.F. regional director for Mexico and the Dominican Republic. "We also checked with our contacts within the industry and essentially surveys are telling us the vast majority of them do not believe you can get this virus from consumption of pork."

The vast majority of people in Mexico are buying pork through retail at historical levels, he added. "There are still some consumers who have some reservations [about pork safety]. However, based on these survey results, we believe it is moving in the right direction and that demand is coming back. I believe by the end of June, the demand will probably be back very near to what it was prior to the [H1N1] crisis."

However, the H1N1 outbreak and erroneously referring to it as "swine flu" has affected demand for pork in Mexico, in general, and not just demand for U.S. pork, Mr. Russell said. "There is an excess supply of domestic pork meat in the marketplace in Mexico, which is very low priced because of the huge supply currently in the market. But we believe that inventory is being worked off and by the end of this month there will be normal inventory levels of domestic pork within Mexico."

U.S.M.E.F. will now move aggressively to rebuild demand for U.S. pork, Mr. Russell said.

"What we have lined up are about five pork promotions with supermarket chains," he added. "Some will be launched next week and others soon afterwards. The timing might be right, too, because once that local product is worked off and prices start coming up, importers will start importing again. About 35% pork consumed in Mexico is imported primarily from the U.S."