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USDA agrees to help US pork producers

The National Pork Producers Council has commended US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for his decision to lend assistance to US pork producers to help them weather an economic crisis in the hog industry.

USDA will make an additional purchase of up to $25 million of pork products, which will be donated to child nutrition and other domestic food-assistance programmes. (USDA annually buys pork for federal food programs; it bought 43 million pounds in 2007, for example).

“The action by USDA to buy additional pork will benefit America's pork producers, the US economy and the people who rely on the government's various food programmes,” said NPPC President Don Butler. “We are extremely pleased with Secretary Vilsack's decision to purchase more pork. It will help our industry bring supply and demand closer into balance and allow producers to continue to provide consumers with economical, nutritious pork.”

Pork industry crisis
NPPC asked Vilsack to take action to address a crisis that over the past 18 months has cost the pork industry more than $3 billion in equity. Due mostly to higher feed costs, producers since October 2007 have lost an average of $20 on each hog marketed.

In a Jan. 30 letter, NPPC urged USDA to buy pork products from market hogs for emergency food programmes, food pantries, senior and elderly feeding programs, hunger programs or other non-commercial food channels. NPPC suggested that the agency purchase cooked sausage patties, pork crumbles, trimmings, picnics (shoulders) and boneless picnic meat.

Supplemental pork industry
This is the second time in less than a year that USDA has agreed to a supplemental pork purchase. Last April, at NPPC's request, the agency agreed to a $50 million purchase of pork products derived from sows as a way to reduce the national herd and stabilize pork prices. (Some industry economists estimate that recent productivity gains – more pigs per sow – will reduce the herd by 2-4%).

In its most recent request, NPPC also asked Vilsack to use USDA resources, including the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program, to support pork exports, which in 2008 were at record levels and helped temper pork producers' losses.

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