Domestic demand continues to carry the pork markets with fall prices holding surprisingly strong. Our heavy fall production season normally pushes prices down. All indicators suggest a strong pull from both retail and foodservice channels while exports remain somewhat soft. While the first quarter was a disaster for pork exports, we have seen some recovery in foreign demand for pork exports. Our industry is producing good products and many consumers and restaurants are buying more today than they were five years ago.
It has been quite a week for announcements: Subway stepped out on a limb with its position on antibiotics, the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) elevated the cancer risk from red and processed meats and the USDA announced that more U.S. plants will be able to export to China.
Let’s start with the good news. China pork imports in September surged by 83% over last September, but the EU continued to take market share away from the U.S. The efforts by NPPC, USMEF, NAMI and the National Pork Board to get more plants approved for pork exports to China paid off with this past week’s announcement. Now the real work starts as feed mills, producers and packing plants must ensure that no detectable ractopamine is found in the products sent to China. As I have stated previously, the decision not to use ractopamine is up to each producer and their arrangements with their packer and feed mill.
Subway’s announcement that they would only buy meat products produced without the use of ANY antibiotics was a low blow. National Pork Board staff visited Subway’s offices twice in the last year and, additionally, one of their employees recently visited Ron Brenneman’s operation. This announcement regarding a ban on antibiotic use is a lightning bolt coming from nowhere. After the announcement, the National Pork Board made efforts to engage Subway on this subject, but was soundly criticized for our comments from those who know all too well how important antibiotics are to animal welfare and health.
We will not let this announcement go unchallenged, nor will we be deterred from a mission to inform the public, educate producers and lead researchers on all issues related to antibiotic use in pig production. The Pork Checkoff has a robust social media network, connections with pig farmers and excellent relations with ag and national media, which are being deployed to the fullest extent. I personally just spent the past week in New York City addressing this very issue with reporters from national media outlets. I want you to know that the National Pork Board has excellent relations with most media and we expect fair and accurate treatment from them.
The IARC announcement was anticipated by NPPC, NAMI and the National Pork Board. This is another example of using bad and unreliable data to attribute cancer to the consumption of red and processed meats. The IARC singled out red and processed meats for an epidemiological study each to elevated cancer risk. A study of this type attempts to track consumer food consumption patterns with human health outcomes. When a correlation is found, it is reported as a potential cause, but NOT a correlation. I can tell you that there is a high correlation between drinking water and cancer, but that does not mean drinking water causes cancer.
Again, the National Pork Board will use its extensive social media and producer network to address this issue. In fact, our social media campaign – which you may know as #RealPigFarming – was recognized on Monday at an awards ceremony hosted by industry magazine PR News. This initiative, launched in 2014, unites social media savvy pig farmers with information, talking points and artwork they can share via social media.
Our industry continues to grow and our future is bright. We must not lose site of the fact that pork is a preferred protein for many domestic consumers, restaurants and international customers. We will not step back from the challenges we face and those who seek to harm our industry. Our loyal customers deserve better.