Pork Industry Still Reeling From Swine Flu

After H1N1 was labeled 'swine flu,' industry lost $1.1 billion.

ByABC News
October 15, 2009, 5:51 PM

LINCOLN, Neb. Oct. 16, 2009— -- After a lifetime of farming and a long year of financial hardship, Danny Kluthe was ready for better days.

But then came April 24, the day the National Pork Producers Council considers the birthday of the "swine flu" as a household term.

"We were about to turn the corner and start making a profit," said Kluthe, 53, who owns a hog farm near Dodge, Neb. "And here somebody labeled H1N1 the 'swine flu,' and it just totally took a nosedive."

The earliest detected H1N1 virus was found in a 5-year-old boy who lived near a pig farm in Mexico, hence the name "swine flu." Almost instantly, concerns over pork safety spread around the world. Indonesia and Japan initiated a nationwide medical examination of their hogs. In Iraq, zoo hogs were killed. Egypt ordered that hogs across the country be slaughtered.

The United States, the world's largest pork exporter, felt the hit in the weeks following the first outbreak, when 27 nations blocked all U.S. pork imports. Domestic demand plunged as well. And all of that came "obviously from fears of H1N1," pork council spokesman Dave Warner said.

In the past two years alone, the U.S. pork industry has lost $5 billion, according to the NPPC. Pork producers lost 66 percent of their equity, meaning that a hog farm previously worth $100,000 is now worth only $34,000.

Of that $5 billion, $1.1 billion has been lost since April 24, continuing the downward trend started by the economy and high feed costs.

"I bet you my bottom line backed up good, probably a good 30 to 40 percent plus," Kluthe said of his 15,000-hog operation, comparing his actual profits this year to what he had expected.

Although there have been no documented cases of a pig passing H1N1 to a human, U.S. pork producers are "treading water that they've never tread before," Kluthe said, appealing to public officials, media and citizens to stop making the connection between "swine" and "flu."

"It's like you're getting blamed for something that's not your fault," said Terry O'Neel, whose 500-sow farm is near Friend in southeastern Nebraska. "It's not just a financial aspect, it's really disheartening, especially when the media use the label so loosely."