WHO changes tune, now says pork safe to eat

Source of Article:  http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/story.html?id=1576622


Industry Still Reeling

Emily Senger, National Post  Published: Friday, May 08, 2009

Pork is safe to eat, the World Health Organization said yesterday, but this reassurance did little for Canadian pork producers, who say the swine flu virus is the latest blow to an already battered industry.

Keiji Fukuda, acting WHO assistant director-general, told reporters at a daily news conference in Geneva yesterday that eating pork is safe.

"Eating pork does not pose a risk to people in terms getting this infection," Mr. Fukuda said.

That statement comes the day after Jorgen Schlundt, director of the WHO Depatment of Food Safety, Zoonoses and Food Borne Diseases, said pork from animals infected with swine flu should not be consumed by humans. He later clarified his statement, saying that properly processed pork is safe.

The muddled messages do not change the situation for pork producers in Canada, which is the worst Jurgen Preugschas, 60, has seen in his lifetime as a hog producer.

"We've had just a multitude of shocks, one after the other," said Mr. Preugschas, who is the chair of the Canadian Pork Council and also raises about 9,000 hogs on his farm near Mayerthorpe, Alta., northwest of Edmonton.

In early 2000, the Canadian hog industry used to be profitable.

"With the low Canadian dollar it was easy to compete on the world market," Mr. Preugschas said. "We sold at a low price around the world. We ended up being a low-cost seller for a high-value product."

Then the U. S. dollar collapsed. Input costs for commodities like food and fuel rose.

Hog producers have lost money consistently since the fall of 2006, Mr. Preugschas said.

Currently, hog producers are selling their animals for about 40 cents per kilogram lower than expected, which means they lose close to $40 on each animal they sell, Mr. Preugschas said.

Many have quit altogether. The industry has lost 28% of its producers since 2006.

Swine flu means even more hog producers will leave the business in the next 12 months, said Karl Kynoch, who is the chair of the Manitoba Pork Council and raises his own hogs near the town of Baldur, southwest of Winnipeg.

"This will make the difference of whether some producers lose their farms, or go into bankruptcy, or finally just give up," Mr. Kynoch said. "We get a lot of producer calls where they just don't know what to do."

Before swine flu sent prices plummeting, things were starting to look up in Manitoba, where 900 hog farmers contribute about $2 billion annually to the provincial economy. Mr. Kynoch said Manitoba producers thought they might actually make a profit this summer for the first time in three years.

Not anymore.

"Right now, what's going to happen, nobody knows," Mr. Kynoch said.

Ken McEwan, an agricultural economics professor at the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus, said the hog market actually showed signs of an upswing in mid-April, until swine flu sent hog prices plummetting again.

While China, Russia and at least a dozen other countries have banned or restricted pork imports, Mr. Mc-Ewan said Canadian consumers are likely to rally around the pork industry, as they did in 2003 when bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better know as BSE or mad cow disease, devastated Canadian beef ranchers.

"Any time when there is a potential pandemic, and it has the swine flu attached to it, and you're a pork producer, it raises a concern with consumer confidence," Mr. McEwan said. "When BSE broke out in Western Canada, there was a concerted effort and Canadians actually ate more beef. It's hopeful that Canadians here, now, will respond in the same way."


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