The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has agreed to buy pork products to help producers weather the current economic crisis.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) commended USDA for its announcement to purchase up to $25 million of pork products to be donated to child nutrition and other domestic food assistance programs. USDA annually buys pork for federal food programs; in 2007, it bought 43 million lb.

“The action by USDA to buy additional pork will benefit America’s pork producers, the U.S. economy and the people who rely on the government’s various food programs,” says NPPC President Don Butler. “We are extremely pleased with Secretary Tom 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.”

NPPC asked Vilsack for help in addressing a crisis that over the past 18 months has cost the pork industry more than $3 billion in equity. With higher feed costs leading the way, pork producers since October 2007 have lost an average of $20 on each hog marketed.

NPPC’s Jan. 30 letter urged USDA to buy pork products from market hogs for emergency food programs, food pantries, senior and elderly feeding programs, hunger programs or other non-commercial food channels.

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 purchase $50 million of pork products derived from sows as a means of reducing the national herd and stabilizing pork prices.

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 reached record levels in 2008 and helped bolster sagging hog returns.