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What is Really Going on in the US Pork Industry?

05 June 2015

Ahead of the World Pork Expo, ThePigSite asked the President of the US National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), Dr Ron Prestage, for his views on the current state of the US pork sector.

NPPC Ron Prestage
Ron Prestage, DVM, NPPC President

ThePigSite: Dr Prestage: What do you see as the main challenges facing the US sector right now?

Dr Prestage: "NPPC’s top issues are trade, specifically, getting Trade Promotion Authority approved in Congress and finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations; the 2015 dietary guidelines, which recommend what Americans should eat; an Environmental Protection Agency proposed rule on water that could have a significant negative impact on farmers; and the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law, which needs to be fixed by Congress so that the US avoids trade retaliation from Canada and Mexico."

ThePigSite: What are the prospects for US pig meat exports in the coming months? 

Dr Prestage: "I think pork exports will continue to be good in 2015, just as they’ve been for the past 25 years. Since 1989 – the year the United States began using bilateral and regional trade agreements to open foreign markets – US pork exports have increased 1,550 per cent in value and 1,268 per cent in volume.

"Last year, we shipped more than $6.6 billion of pork to foreign destinations, and I expect we’ll close to that this year." 

ThePigSite: What are your hopes regarding the dispute over Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) with Canada and Mexico? Can you see a resolution soon and do you think COOL will benefit the US pork industry?

Dr Prestage: "The World Trade Organization is expected very soon to reach a decision on an appeal by the United States of the WTO’s October 2014 ruling that COOL violates international trade regulations. It seems likely the United States will lose and if it does, Canada and Mexico will be allowed to put retaliatory tariffs on a host of US products.

"We absolutely must avoid trade retaliation, so NPPC is pressing Congress to repeal the parts of COOL that violate WTO rules. COOL provides little benefit to consumers and it cost pork producers and meat packers millions of dollars to implement.

"More importantly, though, the WTO has ruled that it discriminates against Canadian and Mexican livestock entering the United States, and that means we could be subject to retaliation."

ThePigSite: Have the recent outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian flu in the poultry/turkey sector impacted the US pork industry?

Dr Prestage: "So far, the avian influenza affecting the US poultry sector isn't having an impact on our industry. But we could see an effect on ham prices around Thanksgiving given what the flu has been doing to turkey flocks in the upper Midwest."

ThePigSite: Do you think feed prices are likely to rise or to fall this year?

Dr Prestage: "The last estimates from USDA on corn and soybean plantings show the former down down per cent and the latter up one per cent from last year so I don’t think we’ll see any great swings in feed prices this year."

ThePigSite: Several food companies in the US have pledged to end the use of gestation crates in their supply chains in the coming years. Is that realistic and what impacts will it have on the US pork market?

Dr Prestage: "It's not realistic to think US pork producers will stop using gestation pens for sows any time soon. There is no reason to abandon a housing system that allows producers to give individual care to their animals and that eliminates aggression among sows.

"What’s more, the food companies that have made those pledges aren't willing to pay – and neither are their consumers – the higher costs associated with raising sows in alternative housing systems.

"Quite frankly, a lot of those decisions were made either based on misinformation about the well-being of sows in those individual pens and/or based on the fact that some animal-rights group, which likely supplied that misinformation, threatened the company brand."

ThePigSite: Is the US winning the war against Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea (PED)?  What lessons could be learned from US experience of this devastating disease?

Dr Prestage: "I think we have a good handle on PEDV now. We aren't seeing the outbreaks we saw in 2013 and into 2014.

"At least a couple of factors in arresting the disease have been better farm biosecurity and cleaning – everything from barns to trucks – and the fact that a lot of the US sow herd has built up an immunity to the disease after the initial exposure.

"The onset in April 2013 of PEDV in the United States – a disease that we hadn't previously seen in this country – was a wake-up call for our industry. We need to be better prepared to tackle diseases such as this and the H1N1 flu. We learned some lessons from dealing with both, and I believe we are in a superior position to address future challenges."

Further Reading

You can view more in the The Pig Site Digital: World Pork Expo by clicking here.

June 2015

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