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 inspections
Despite 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.