Hog prices are falling, along with corn and soybean prices, as traders react to reports of swine flu, which has claimed its first life in the U.S., a 23-month-old in Texas. Iowa pork producers are hopeful prices will recover once people understand there’s no danger in eating pork.
Heidi Vittetoe manages a large hog operation in Washington County and says the name of the disease is causing confusion. Vittetoe says, "The fact that this influenza has ‘swine’ attached to it as a name is because the virus was originally found in pigs about 75 years ago and for that reason it’s called swine influenza but it could just as easily be called North American influenza or Mexican influenza."
She says several ag commodities took a tumble on Tuesday. Vittetoe says, "The grain markets were also down sharply early on because people intuited that if meat prices fall and demand falls, that suddenly there won’t be a demand for grain," but prices recovered much ground they’d lost by later in the day. Ron Birkenholz, spokesman for the Iowa Pork Producers Association, agrees that a name change for this disease is in order.
Birkenholz says, "It’s not fair to call it a swine flu because it really has nothing to do with pigs right now." Birkenholz says they’ve gotten a number of calls from producers on what they can do to keep the virus from striking their herds. He says pork organizations are advising producers to maintain strict biosecurity to protect their pigs from viruses, and that includes farm hands.
He says, "If they’re feeling ill or exhibiting some of these symptoms, we don’t want those people working in the barns and possibly passing it on to the pigs." Birkenholz says the C.D.C. and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security say people cannot get this hybrid influenza from eating pork.
"Swine influenza viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get swine influenza from eating pork." The C.D.C. says it is important that pork is handled and cooked properly. This hybrid virus never has been identified in hogs in the U.S. or anywhere in the world. This is a different virus from what is found in pigs and is spreading by human-to-human transmission. As of the end of 2008, there were 8,300 hog operations in Iowa.