Pork producers fight against swine flu

Hogs are raised on the farm of Gordon and Jeanine Lockie in Elma, Iowa.

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Kai Ryssdal: Pork producers know something about managing their image. The ad campaign for "the other white meat" is legendary for its success in convincing consumers that pork -- once seen as a fast track to a heart attack -- is actually healthier than some other meats. The U.S. hog industry sold 110-million pigs last year. Pork exports to some countries reached record highs. But a deadly virus with the name "swine flu?" That's a whole lot of damage control. Marketplace's Janet Babin reports now from North Carolina Pubic Radio.


JANET BABIN: Here's what pork producers want you to know:

Dave Warner: Pork is safe, this virus is not a food-borne illness. And it is not in the U.S. pig herd.

That's Dave Warner with the National Pork Producers Council. The group has been pushing officials to stop using the term "swine flu." And call the strain by its scientific name, the H1N1 virus.

There have been reports that the H1N1 virus originated in a factory farm in Mexico, where thousands of pigs are born and raised in confined quarters. But Warner says there's no evidence of that.

Warner: The first case is from a town where a pork operation does exist, but there is no connection from that pork farm to that person who contracted it.

But convincing the public of could be a hard sell. Thirteen countries, including China and Russia have already banned some U.S. pork imports.

Even small pig farmers think there might be a connection. Lee Menius in a farmer in North Carolina.

Lee Menius: The confinement animals are in close quarters just like kids in a big school building, so if one of them gets sick, it passes from one to the other really quickly.

Pork futures have been falling since the outbreak, but Menius says the virus could actually increase pork sales at local farmer's markets.

Menius: We can tell our customers, you know, you can't fry a pork chop and get the pig flu.

The National Pork Board spends about $10 million annually on consumer outreach. That amount may have to be higher this year.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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