Swine flu outbreak affecting pork industry

The Associated Press reported yesterday in USA Today that Mexican authorities believe as many as 149 people have died from the current outbreak of swine flu.

Also in USA Today, Matt Krantz reported that,

“Shares of pork producers Smithfield Foods (SFD), Tyson Foods (TSN) and Bob Evans Farms (BOBE) dropped 12.4%, 8.9% and 6.4% respectively as investors wondered if consumers might cut back on pork consumption due to confusion about how the virus spreads.”

Currently, there is no evidence that swine in the US or Canada are infected. Even if some infected hogs surface, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that well-cooked pork cannot transmit swine flu. However, that doesn’t stop consumers from being concerned.

So, what are pork producers and processors doing to market the safety of their products? This is a great opportunity to show off their antemortem (live hog) and postmortem (hog carcass) disease monitoring programs.

Smithfield Foods, Inc. seized the moment and told investors in a statement Sunday that, “it has found no clinical signs or symptoms of the presence of swine influenza in the company’s swine herd or its employees at its joint ventures in Mexico,” and, “its joint ventures in Mexico routinely administer influenza virus vaccination to their swine herds and conduct monthly tests for the presence of swine influenza.”

Tyson Foods, which does not operate any pork processing facilities in the affected areas, only referred to the CDC statement that the flu is not affecting pigs, and stated, “Our pork products are safe.” I doubt that brings much comfort to confused consumers who are actively trying to protect themselves. Show us some real evidence that your products are safe.

I haven’t seen anything from Bob Evans Farms. Maybe they don’t even know there’s an outbreak…

Consumers demonstrate their vote of confidence in products each time they make a purchase. Producers that speak up about risks and how they’re being managed are likely to receive more votes than those that don’t.