Today, governors from nine states sent a letter to President Obama and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative requesting both to take immediate action to help U.S. pork producers through a nearly two-year-old economic crisis.

“The pork industry is facing an economic crisis that is catastrophic in nature,” the governors said in their letter. “For the pork industry to remain as vibrant entities in rural communities, we need your prompt actions to assure that our communities and the U.S. pork industry remain competitive world wide.”

As Iowa State University data reveals, since September 2007, the U.S. pork industry has lost nearly $4.5 billion, with producers losing an average of $21.37 per pig.

Signing the letter were  the governors of Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. They are asking the administration to:

  • Support at least an additional $50 million of pork purchases for government feeding programs."The infrastructure for this is already in place through USDA," noted Iowa Gov. Chet Culver at a news conference announcing the letter and effort. USDA annually buys pork for federal food programs; it bought nearly $62.6 million worth in 2008.

    "Given the economic challenges facing all Americans, and the increasing demands for food assistance, this request would assist those programs as well as pork producers," said Neil Dierks, National Pork Producers Council's chief executive officer.

  • Remove a spending cap on USDA’s Section 32 food-assistance program so that additional purchases of surplus agriculture products, including pork, can be made. (Congress imposed the cap as part of USDA’s fiscal 2009 budget.)
  • Urge China to quickly lift a ban on U.S. pork that was put in place because of the Type A H1N1 influenza outbreak and to eliminate other barriers to U.S. pork exports. Other countries have lifted their bans, but China has not responded. Through March, 1.3 percent of all U.S. pork exports went to China. As Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics, pointed out, that may not sound like much, but China also is the No. 2 importer of pork specialty meats, and finding a market for those products is vital to the industry's overall profitability.

The mislabeling of Type A H1N1 influenza as "swine flu" has hurt U.S. pork export sales, and reduced domestic consumption. Meyer added that since late April, the impact on the industry has tallied $636 million; projecting out through year's end, he calculates the impact at $2.3 billion.

Culver took the opportunity at the news conference to again emphasize that "H1N1 is not a food-borne illness; you cannot contract it through handling or eating pork."

Some U.S. pork producers have gone out of business, or are in jeopardy of doing so. Dierks points out that there are 553,000 jobs (most in rural communities) associated directly with pork production. The pork processing sector is facing a similar fate. "For every 1 million hogs, the industry generates $13.3 million in production related wages, and $18.8 million in the processing sector," noted Meyer. In 2008, the United States 116 million market hogs. Continued losses in jobs and wages will negatively impact rural communities.

“U.S. pork producers, who provide America’s families with a safe, wholesome, nutritious product, are grateful to the governors for intervening on their behalf with President Obama,” said NPPC President Don Butler. “These state executives recognize that pork production is a significant value-added industry for their states and for our country.”

Dierks pointed out that other governors are also preparing letters to encourage similar action. "For various reasons they could not make the deadline," to join the nine governors in signing today's letter, he added.