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Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain

Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain
Like Other Countries Do

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pork industry in panic as pigs catch the flu

By PATRICK WHITE From Monday's Globe and Mail

WINNIPEG — The influenza outbreak has so far spared Canadian lives, but it is laying waste to the country's struggling pork industry, drawing comparisons to the crippling blow mad-cow disease delivered to beef producers in 2003. “We're heading for a wreck,” said Simon Goodwin, a pig farmer in Alberta, where a herd infected with the new influenza AH1N1 strain was recently quarantined.
“We've already seen 20 dollars knocked off our price, and that was before we heard about it spreading to hogs in Alberta.”

The province quarantined 2,200 pigs on a central Alberta farm after Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials confirmed that a farm-worker infected the animals with influenza A H1N1.

The infected hogs are recovering from the sneezing and runny snouts that plagued them last week.

“It's passing over like a regular old flu in humans would,” said Gerald Hauer, Alberta's chief veterinarian.

But the economic carnage is only just beginning.

China banned all imports of Alberta pork yesterday, according to the Canadian Pork Council, and farmers speculate that their major export market, the United States, may follow suit this week. Both countries have expressed concern that the flu strain – originally termed swine flu by health officials because its genetic code shows porcine origins – will contaminate domestic herds.

As a result, hog prices will open at $1.22 a kilogram Monday, down 17 cents since trading closed last week.

Most hog operations only break even when prices hover above $1.30, a threshold historically breached every May as Canadians start putting pork chop to barbecue.

“If we miss this summer window, we're going to lose part of the industry,” said hog farmer John Preun, president of the Manitoba Pork Marketing Co-op. “The cull will be major.”

That gloomy forecast comes just as the Canadian industry – ranked third in world pork exports behind the U.S. and the European Union – was pulling out of a three-year tailspin precipitated by high energy prices and sustained by a combination of record-high feed costs and a low Canadian dollar.

“It's been the most difficult time our producers have ever gone through,” said Jurgen Preugschas, an Alberta hog farmer and president of the Canadian Pork Council. “Prices looked like they were going to strengthen at the end of April, and we would finally get back into profitable territory. And then this.”

Hanging over the entire hog industry is the grim spectre of mad-cow disease. A single Alberta calf was found to have the brain-wasting disease in 2003, prompting many countries to ban Canadian beef imports for a year. While the two bear little pathological resemblance – the flu quickly subsides in pigs and does not pose any food safety risk – their economic impact may be similar, according to some hog producers.

Only a strong campaign encouraging Canadians to eat more beef kept many ranchers afloat.

“They ate their way out of a problem,” said Mr. Preugschas. “And we may see a similar thing here. If Canadians could eat two extra meals of pork, that would certainly help our producer through these very difficult times.”

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