The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) told foreign officials last night that the U.S. pork industry and the U.S. government are gearing up for a return of the novel H1N1 flu, and that both groups would continue to relay the message that the flu virus is not transmitted through food (pork) and that pork is safe to eat.

“We’re all dealing with the H1N1 flu in our respective countries,” NPPC CEO Neil Dierks told embassy officials from 25 countries at a reception with NPPC’s board of directors in Washington, DC. “We just need to remember that the flu is not a food-borne illness; you can’t get the H1N1 flu from eating pork.”

NPPC has been working with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reopen markets that were closed to U.S. pork exports as a result of the H1N1 flu outbreak reported extensively starting April 24.

Many countries have lifted their bans on U.S. pork, but China and a few other countries have kept theirs intact, citing fears of H1N1, misnamed “swine flu.” China was the third-largest market for U.S. pork in 2008, buying nearly $690 million of U.S. pork and pork products.

Those pork export bans, combined with a drop in consumer demand, rising production costs and a worldwide economic slowdown that began two years ago have cost the U.S. pork industry more than $4.6 billion. U.S. pork producers have lost an average of $25/market hog and a combined $991 million from April 24 to mid-August.