Local News

Flu fears causing people to pass on pork

Posted May 4, 2009 11:33 p.m. EDT
Updated May 5, 2009 6:24 a.m. EDT

— Public health authorities have stressed that you can't catch swine flu from eating pork; however, some people are still afraid and that is hurting the $97 billion U.S. pork industry.

At Buddy's Barbecue in Fayetteville, the breakfast and lunch crowds are still ordering pork.

"Nobody's mentioned it (swine flu). Nobody's talked about it. Same regular breakfast: bacon (and) sausage," said Janice Bundy, with Buddy's Barbecue.

But some consumers are shying away from pork and that has the pork industry worried.

“It means that the media have gone crazy,” William Butler said.

William Butler raises some 7,000 pigs on his Bladen County farm. His son, who lives in Clinton, is the president of the National Pork Producers Council, which represents the nation's 67,000 hog farmers.

Don Butler said there is no evidence that any hogs have contracted the flu. But fear of the swine flu is scaring pork eaters away.

"It has had a significant negative impact ... on the pork industry. Consumption of pork products is down double digits since the news broke,” Don Butler said.

North Carolina ranks second in the nation for hog production, and more than 46,000 people in the state work in the industry.

Butler said because of the weakened economy, hog farmers had already lost about $20 a pig since September 2007. With the swine flu outbreak, he says, the price could drop another $5.90.

"Some farmers literally will be forced out of business as a result of this,” Don Butler said.

Butler said he fears the double-whammy of the economy and the swine flu scare could kill up to 30 percent of the nation's pork industry.

"It's very important for people to understand that pork is safe. Their food is safe,” Don Butler said.

Butler said hog farmers in the U.S. do not use migrant labor from Mexico or any other country. World Health Organization officials have also stressed that you cannot get the flu by eating or handling pork.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials started calling the swine flu virus 2009 H1N1 after two of its genetic markers. Then on Thursday, WHO officials said it would stop using the name swine flu because it was misleading and triggering the slaughter of pigs in some countries.

Health investigators have confirmed one case of swine flu in North Carolina – an Onslow County man who recently traveled to Texas. Dr. Jeffrey Engel, the state health director, said he expects the man's wife will also have a confirmed case of the virus.

State lab testers have now processed or received 433 suspect specimens, and 382 have tested negative.