Mixed Feelings Toward Pork Voiced as Flu Spreads

CHINA - To eat pork or not to eat pork, that's the question for many Chinese consumers as swine flu, or the H1N1 influenza epidemic, spreads globally.
calendar icon 1 May 2009
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The World Health Organization has raised its level of pandemic alert from phase 4 to 5, indicating that a pandemic is "imminent." The virus is suspected of killing more than 150 people in North America.

Although the World Organization for Animal Health and the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, as well as Chinese health officials, have said there is no proof the flu virus is found in pigs or can be contracted through eating pig meat or other pork products, the disease has nevertheless cast shadows over China's pork market.

Mixed feelings

In central Henan province, one of the country's leading swine exporters, vendors have felt the chill.

"Normally, I sell about 130 kg pork everyday at this time of year," said Feng Jianwei, in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan. "But business has slumped."

Mr Feng's daily sales average 100 kg pork. "I believe it was affected by the swine flu," he said.

The H1N1 influenza epidemic also threatens the economy of the southwestern Sichuan province, which is recovering from the devastating earthquake in May last year.

When survivor Wang Jiawen borrowed money from his neighbors to buy two piglets to raise in May, the farmer never expected flu could dash his hopes of a new beginning.

"Now I just hope that I can break even," Mr Wang said.

"The pork price has fallen amid the global financial crisis and pig raisers in Sichuan cannot afford another hit," said Lan Jianming, vice head of the Sichuan Provincial Animal Husbandry and Food Administration.

"With the possible further development of the H1N1 influenza epidemic, the fortunes of Sichuan's pig industry may worsen," he said.

A similar situation could be seen in the market of Nanchang, capital of the eastern Jiangxi province.

Pork prices have dropped by about 10 per cent at the city's Bayiqiao market, but that still failed to lure cautious consumers, vendor Deng Shen said.

"After all, it won't affect my health even if I don't eat pork. I can choose chicken or fish," he said.

But not all consumers are pessimistic.

At the Yongchang market in Changchun, capital of northeastern Jilin province, residents were seen thronging the pork stands Thursday afternoon.

"It sells very well today, better than normal," vendor Jiang Lihui told Xinhua. "I think it's because the May Day holiday is coming and people need more pork for celebrations."

Shopper Guan Shaoshan said he had no special feeling about swine flu.

"Of course I will cook the pork before eating it in case of infection. On the other hand, I know the government is taking preventive measures," he said.

Nationwide, the swine flu outbreak has not affected pork markets significantly, according to a Xinhua-operated monitoring system on prices of the country's farm and sideline products.

The supply and sale of pork were normal, and pork prices showed no big fluctuations despite a slight fall Thursday.

However, fish and chicken are gaining popularity at the market.

"I won't consider buying pork in the near future, though no swine flu cases have been reported in our country," shopper Wu Qinghua told Xinhua.

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