WASHINGTON — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has joined a bipartisan effort to encourage Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to take action to support the U.S. pork industry that has been hit hard by declining sales due, in part, to being wrongly associated with the H1N1 influenza virus.
Cochran, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has signed a letter to Vilsack seeking immediate action to alleviate the economic crisis facing the U.S. pork industry. The letter, initiated by Senators Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), suggests three actions Vilsack can take to help the industry weather rising input costs, the recession and impact from the H1N1 flu.
“Pork producers are in the unenviable position of being associated with an illness that has frightened the public. I believe Secretary Vilsack should give serious consideration to administrative actions he can take to help bring the industry through these hard times,” said Cochran, who also serves on the Senate Agriculture Appropriation Subcommittee.
The letter to Vilsack pointed out that, since 2007, the pork industry lost $4.6 billion in equity, with producers losing an average of more than $21 on every hog marketed. It also points out that since H1N1 became a major media story in April, U.S. pork producers’ revenues have declined by $991 million through August.
Mississippi producers raised more than 360,000 hogs in 2008, which had a gross market value of approximately $53.1 million, according to the National Pork Board.
The letter asks Vilsack to “take immediate action to assist the pork industry to help producers during this emergency situation before more jobs are lost and more producers go out of business.”
The Senators specifically asked Vilsack to take the following actions:
• Use the USDA Section 32 Program to purchase an additional $100 million of pork for various federal food programs.
• Coordinate with appropriate federal agencies to address swine disease surveillance, and related diagnostic and vaccine development.
• Work with the U.S. Trade Representative to open export markets to American pork products, particularly China, which has imposed non-science-based restrictions on U.S. pork since the outbreak of the 2009 H1N1 virus.
“In 2008, China was the second largest volume market for U.S. pork exports, accounting for nearly 20 percent of total U.S. pork exports. Given the severely depressed state of the U.S. pork industry, resuming pork exports to China would give producers around the country a much-needed economic boost,” the senators wrote.
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