Pork producers contend with swine flu fallout

Canadian pork producers contend that thousands of jobs and billions of dollars are at stake because of the swine flu. China has banned the import of pork products from Alberta.
Jean Morin looks over his pigs at the Mober SENC farm in Saint Hughes, Que., south of Montreal, on Thursday. Pork producers are worried about the impact swine flu will have on their industry. ((Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press))

Canadian pork producers contend that thousands of jobs and billions of dollars are at stake because of the swine flu.

Ten countries have banned Canadian pork products since the virus was found on a central Alberta pig farm. China specifically banned pork from Alberta.

Jurgen Preugschas, a pork producer near Mayerthorpe, Alta., and the president of the Canadian Pork Council, said his members are worried.

"Our industry has gone through three years of devastating loss already through various shocks in our system and now to have this happen is extremely concerning and worrisome," he said.

"There is, of course, the danger of people going out of business over it if the prices drop any more."

At a news conference in Edmonton Monday afternoon, Preugschas said the bans are unnecessary and repeated that there is no chance of getting the flu from eating pork.

"Its been a knee-jerk reaction," he said. "It's a simple reaction to the hype that has been created, and the easiest solution sometimes is slamming the border shut without having the real, science-based information."

Preugschas said a barbeque is planned for Wednesday on Parliament Hill in support of Canadian pork and called on people to eat more pork.

"I appeal to Canadians and consumers around the world .… eat an extra pork chop or an extra pork roast, one or two extra meals a week and help us through so we can continue to provide safe products to you in the years to come."

At the same news conference, Alberta's chief provincial veterinarian, Dr. Gerald Hauer, said the pigs on the farm remain under quarantine and officials are waiting for the illness to run its course among the animals.

Hauer also released new details about the worker who is believed to have passed the virus onto the pigs. The man was a carpenter doing work in the barn. He had just returned from a trip to Mexico to help build a church.

"He came back on April 12th. He went in the barn on April 14th," Hauer said.

Officials didn't get word about the virus until April 24th and sent a notification out that same day, but the exposure on the farm had already occurred, he said.

Market prices for hogs went through another roller-coaster day on Monday, as they traded lower on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The futures contract for June hogs slipped 1.8 cents US to settle at 6.775 cents a pound.

Prices lost roughly six cents per pound last week as markets reacted to news of the swine flu.

Preugschas said the drop in prices work out to about $10 to $20 a hog.

"In my case, I sell 250 hogs a week at $20. Calculate it out. That's what it's costing me on a weekly basis," he said.

Stockwell Day, Canada's minister of international trade, called China's ban on Alberta pork "disappointing and unwarranted."

Day said the federal government is attempting to "clarify" the situation with the Chinese government.

With files from The Canadian Press