WASHINGTON (AP) - The pork industry's trade group has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for $250 million in assistance to buy up pork and give the industry money to help fight swine flu.
The National Pork Producers Council sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Monday, saying it needs money to help producers, who have been losing an average of more than $21 on each hog taken to market since September 2007.
Meat producers - particularly the pork industry - have been hurting due to commodity costs that reached record highs last summer. An oversupply of meat on the market kept prices down, which means producers were often paying more to feed and raise animals then they were receiving when they sold them.
The industry has lost nearly $4.5 billion since September 2007, council president Don Butler said in the letter.
"We are starting to see producers going out of business, and this will lead to tens of thousands of lost jobs and higher food prices," Butler wrote.
The council wants the USDA to spend at least $150 million on pork products for various programs, including immediately buying up to $50 million of pork for federal food programs, using fiscal 2009 funds before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
The USDA spent $62.6 million in 2008 buying pork for food programs, according to the council. The producers are also asking Congress to lift a spending cap that limits spending on pork for certain food programs.
In addition, the council requested $100 million to help address the H1N1 virus, including $70 million for swine disease surveillance.
The H1N1 outbreak this past spring was originally called "swine flu" and exacerbated the industry's problems, Butler wrote, as consumers and countries around the world were leery of buying the products.
The council is also asking Vilsack to work with the U.S. Trade Representative to help open up export markets, particularly China, that banned U.S. pork due to H1N1 concerns.