COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Educating the American public that they can't contract the H1N1 (swine flu) virus by eating pork will be a big factor in how much the U.S. pork industry will be impacted by the growing pandemic, says an Ohio State University economist.
"The bad news is that we are probably just seeing the beginning of this outbreak (the World Health Organization has recently warned of a potential second wave of the virus). We can help offset that by being better informed and knowing that you don't catch swine flu from consuming pork or pork products," said Luther Tweeten, professor emeritus of agricultural trade and policy in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics. "The long-term impacts on the pork industry will have a lot to do with how much education is done informing the public that the flu is an airborne pathogen, not a food-borne pathogen."
In the short term, the 2009 H1N1 virus is having some impact on the U.S. pork industry, with prices dropping 10 percent since reports of the outbreaks first emerged. However, other factors, such as an overall recession-induced drop in the demand for pork products, are playing into the situation, said Tweeten.
"The pork industry in recent years has experienced lower prices and the demand for pork has decreased because of the economic downturn. So the problems are just piled on," said Tweeten. "But I don't think that the swine flu situation is going to have an adverse affect on the swine industry in the long run."
Tweeten also believes that the recent ban on U.S. pork products by such countries as China, Russia, Philippines, Ukraine and Ecuador, will not have any significant impact on the U.S. pork industry.
"So many countries imposed such bans because they are already experiencing difficulties with meat producers due to the general economic downturn. They are not allowed by international rules from restricting imports without a scientific basis, and they are just using the swine flu situation to do what they really wanted to do in the first place," said Tweeten. "However, there is no scientific basis to restrict imports because swine flu is not transmitted through pork and pork products. The World Trade Organization will probably come down on them, if nobody else does first."
Tweeten said that he has read preliminary estimates of a $270 million loss to the U.S. agricultural industry due to the H1N1 outbreaks.
"Ohio hog receipts are $400 million a year, about 3 percent of the overall U.S. hog production, and 3 percent of that $270 million is a modest effect," said Tweeten. "Any estimate is an approximation and it could be estimated higher if things continue to worsen, but I feel that the more people know, the less effect the outbreaks will have on the agricultural industry."
To date there have been 226 confirmed H1N1 cases in the United States, with one death.