Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) called on U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to take more assertive action to lift unfounded and damaging trade barriers on U.S. pork products. Harkin is chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

“With all the hardship facing U.S. pork producers, it is high time to ratchet up our case pressing nations that are unjustifiably refusing U.S. pork imports, especially China and Russia. If they persist in these bans, we must move to apply more formal diplomatic or trade sanctions against them,” Harkin says.

“Since China is a member of the World Trade Organization and Russia is not, the forms that those sanctions take will likely differ. However, the principle of fundamental fairness and the precarious state of the U.S. pork sector demand that we take strong action as soon as possible,” he observes.

Following the April 24 initial case of the H1N1 Flu Outbreak Virus, a number of countries banned U.S. pork imports on the incorrect assumption that the virus could be transmitted by pork.

Since that time, several international human and animal health groups have indicated there is no risk of contracting the H1N1 virus from eating pork.

Several countries lifted their bans, but 15 countries still block pork products from the United States.

Harkin states this has caused a sharp decline in hog prices. June hog contracts are only $57/cwt. (carcass weight), compared to $69/cwt. before the outbreak in April – putting a huge strain on the U.S. pork industry.

Pork and pork variety meat exports declined by 10% in volume compared to April 2008, and the drop in value was about 4%, says the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

For the first four months of the year, pork export volume at 1.43 billion pounds is about 3% above 2008 and the value has increased about 6% to $1.495 billion.

“The good news is that in spite of the turmoil we saw in the latter part of the month, April pork exports were not down as much as had been predicted given the continued economic slump,” says USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “But while international markets are still a relative bright spot for the pork industry, we know they’re one part – an important part – in the profitability of the U.S. pork industry. USMEF’s team around the world is focused on expanding export opportunities and helping to provide the kind of momentum hog producers need right now.”