When one of Bartlesville hog farmer Lonnie Hoelscher’s part-time employees returned three weeks ago from a missionary trip to Mexico, Hoelscher gave him some bad news: He wouldn’t be allowed to step foot on the sow and baby pig farm. Hoelscher said he hasn’t heard from federal health or agriculture officials that swine flu is expected to be a problem in the swine herd. "But we can’t go on as usual and not be concerned about it,” he said. The international scourge, swine flu, is making picky hog farmers more cautious as it reaches deeper into their wallets. The flu is costing the pig industry roughly $5 million per day, said Roy Lee Lindsey, executive director of the Oklahoma Pork Council. Pork is safe to eat, health officials say, and no American pig herd has been infected with the flu so far. It has been identified in a now-quarantined Canadian pig herd. Despite assurances that pork is safe to consume, some countries have banned U.S. pork, causing pork to flood the U.S. market. The glut led to lower prices. Hoelscher, who sells about 200 pigs a week, said the swine flu scare is causing him to lose at least $1,000 a week.. "Even if (the swine flu scare) went away right now, it would take more than a year to make up for what I lost in three weeks,” he said.
No time for inspectionsDespite the concern, pork and agriculture officials contend it isn’t time for federal inspectors to visit the nation’s self-regulated hog farms. "No. Absolutely not,” Lindsey said. More people tromping into the farms brings the risk of transmitting pig diseases, he said. Lindsey said farms are limiting visitors and telling workers to stay home if they appear ill or have ill family members. Tyson Foods, one of the large companies that contract with some of the 15,000 Oklahoma pig farm workers, said in a statement, "Inspections by outside regulators are unnecessary when we already have the expertise and experience available to address animal health issues that arise.” Jack Carson, spokesman for the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department agreed. "There is no cause for alarm,” he said. "They are inspected and the farms themselves have their own veterinarians.” Financial losses Lindsey said the Oklahoma Pork Council obviously is concerned about the human health perspective. "We’re very relieved it appears the virus ... has been relatively easy for folks to treat and deal with,” he said. "At the same time, our producers are suffering economically as a result of it.” Though contract farmers don’t seem to be hurting as much, the financial impact on independent farmers can be staggering. After 15 years as one of those independent farmers, Hoelscher said he won’t be able to operate much longer because he will run out of equity and the bank eventually will require him to shut down. He said a lot of farmers have mortgaged everything they have during the past year and a half. Vaccinations Pig farms routinely look for and test for diseases, including influenza. Since the outbreak of swine flu, they’ve added that virus to those tested for, said Paul Sunderg, a veterinarian with the National Pork Board. Sunderg said no regulation is needed because testing for viruses is in the best interest of producers. And the Centers for Disease Control has a long-standing surveillance program, he said. "If people put into place the recommendations we have for biosecurity, that’s the best they can do at this point,” Sunderg said. "The pork producers are really paying attention.” Tyson Foods routinely vaccinates all breeding stock for influenza, spokesman Gary Mickelson said. Iowa State University to determine what strain is involved, so we can make sure we’re using the most
ONLINEInformation and resources News and resources dealing with flu, pneumonia and allergy issues, including more information on the swine flu investigation and a timeline of human flu pandemics. knowit.newsok.com/flu/