The Minnesota Pork Board (MPB) is contributing towards disaster relief efforts in Japan through a $50,000 donation of ready-to-eat pork meals. MPB Executive Director David Preisler made the announcement following a decision by pork producers at a meeting last week.

The MPB donation builds upon a $100,000 contribution from the National Pork Board. The boxed, precooked lunches, known as ‘bentos’ in Japan, will feature the U.S. pork symbol with a message of sympathy and support from U.S. pork producers on the packaging. Japan is the largest foreign customer for U.S. pork, importing 5.7 percent of U.S. pork production in 2010.

“Japan has been a long-time customer of U.S. pork and this donation will provide pork-based meals for people living in northern Japan,” Preisler said. “Although it is promoting U.S. pork products, it provides humanitarian aid to people in need following the earthquake and tsunami.”

The MPB Promotion Committee, comprised of Minnesota pork producers, decided to contribute towards the relief program during its meeting on March 16. MPB Vice President and Courtland, Minn. pork producer, Tim Waibel, said the committee originally intended to discuss participating in a pork promotional campaign targeting Japanese consumers.

“The promotion committee was going to review a proposal for an export enhancement program for Japan when the National Pork Board made its announcement to provide humanitarian relief,” Waibel said. “Our committee members all felt that pork donations would be a good place for us to contribute funding.”

The procurement and distribution of the lunches will be coordinated through the U.S. Meat Export Federation, which is a nonprofit trade association that helps develop and maintain export markets for U.S. pork, beef, lamb and veal farmers. Preisler says the USMEF is active in Japan and has offices, contacts and staff in place, plus a successful history working with U.S. and Minnesota pork producers.

Waibel said the committee’s decision to take part in the relief effort had unanimous support and demonstrates the tradition of county pork associations contributing to food shelves, and helping their communities and individuals recover from local disasters, such as floods and tornadoes.

“Within our own communities, pork producers are generous with their time and their resources, so this does not surprise me,” Waibel said.