Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson and Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey have sent a joint letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack asking to increase pork purchases for to use in the federal food programs. The two pointed to $50 million already allocated to the federal programs as a funding source for the purchases. 

“Pork producers in Minnesota and around the country are in a financial crisis,” the two agriculture leaders stated. “Directing federal funds already allocated to USDA to purchase pork products would give our producers a much-needed boost at a time of great need.”

Secretary Vilsack could use USDA Section 32 funds to purchase the pork products. The product could be distributed through federal emergency food programs, food pantries, senior/elderly food programs, and other non-commercial food channels. The demand for federal food programs is up 30 percent from last year, due to the recession and its widespread economic challenges.

This action would benefit pork producers by reducing the excess supply of pork in the marketplace, while also providing a healthy protein source to the many Americans in need who are served by these food assistance programs, said Hugoson and Northey.

The global recession has slowed U.S. pork exports and keeping more pork on the U.S. market. A large supply of hogs, and consequently pork, along  high input prices and market disruptions associated with the Type A H1N1 influenza outbreak have combined to create tremendous economic pressure on pork producers. U.S. pork producers have experienced 22 months of losses and projections are for losses to continue into 2010.

Type A H1N1 influenza has expanded and deepened producer losses. The American Farm Bureau Federation reported that pork producers’ per-head losses doubled after the outbreak, and the National Pork Producers Council estimated that pork producers around the country lost nearly $7.2 million each day between April 24 and May 1.

Hugoson and Northey pointed out in the letter to Secretary Vilsack that misplaced fears over food safety have contributed significantly to the problem. “In the early weeks of the H1N1 outbreak, the disease was mislabeled ‘swine flu,’ and while many have now switched to the more accurate label of H1N1, some media outlets still use the earlier, less accurate label,” they wrote.  “This incorrect association with pigs created unfounded fears among domestic and international consumers about the safety of pork products, and prompted some protectionist-minded countries to overreact by closing their doors to U.S. meat and poultry.”

While some countries have re-opened to U.S. pork trade, other countries, like China and Russia, have not.