Purdue University agricultural economist Chris Hurt says Indiana hog farmers have been losing money every quarter for the last year and a half, and it's gotten worse since the swine flu scare hit a few weeks ago.
Hurt estimated Indiana hog producers were losing about $5 a head on April 24; he said that number is now $20. Hurt estimates that in the week after the swine flu outbreak, the United States pork industry lost about $30 million.
Hurt says he expected prices farmers received at the market to bounce back this week amid assurances by the Agriculture Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that pork was safe to consume. But that hasn't been the case.
Hurt says he suspects the news Monday that the swine flu was transmitted to pigs in Canada shook consumer and market confidence.
In Alberta, Canada, officials quarantined about 220 pigs infected by a worker who recently returned from Mexico. It was the first documented case of the H1N1 virus being passed from a human to another species. Canada stressed that pigs often get the flu and there is no danger in eating pork.
"I think it is a new twist. It's one where the pork producers had said it's not been found in hogs - well, you can't say that anymore," Hurt said. "Maybe it's the hogs that should be more scared of humans at this point. Or, our hog producers really needing to increase their biosecurity to really try to keep it out of our herds here in Indiana."
Indiana Board of Animal Health spokeswoman Denise Derrer says strict health protection standards are a "normal course of business" and are already widely practiced in the state.
"Most producers work very hard to make sure that they don't have contact with other animals, that they're minimizing the opportunity for any kind of foreign bodies, pests, germs, or microorganisms to enter their herd. On commercial operations, everyone who comes in showering in and changing clothes before they even go into the facility is quite common," Derrer said.
Danville hog farmer David Hardin, who markets about 11,000 pigs per year, says he's protecting his livestock by screening visitors to the farm to ensure they haven't been out of the country recently. He says he also told employees to be aware of who they're around when off the farm and avoid people who are coughing and sneezing.
While swine flu's impact on the economy remains to be seen, pork producers and economists worry the impact in the foreign market will be more dramatic than at home.
"This particular outbreak has generated fears both in the domestic marketplace as well as the export marketplace," says Mike Platt, executive director of Indiana Pork Producers Association. "So the industry itself has taken a significant hit economically, which is certainly unfortunate because there is no transmission of the virus in any food products whatsoever."