DES MOINES, Iowa — The governors of nine key pork-producing states, including Kentucky, sent President Barack Obama a letter Friday urging him to rescue an industry that's been battered by high commodity prices and worries about disease.
"Today, the pork industry is facing an economic crisis that is catastrophic in nature," the governors said in the letter. They urged Obama to purchase an additional $50 million in pork for government nutrition programs, eliminate a ceiling on how much surplus product the Agriculture Department can buy and push to expand export markets, primarily to China.
"This is a situation I am taking very seriously," Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said in a conference call with reporters. He was joined by governors from Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Wisconsin in sending the letter.
"We've had a tremendous loss of equity and little or no profit for almost two years," said Dave Moody of the Iowa Pork Producers Association.
The industry has been hammered by the high costs of corn and soybeans, the primary feed for hogs, but the economic trouble got worse with the swine flu outbreak, also called H1N1.
"Even though pork products are very safe, the negative impact of the A/H1N1 influenza outbreak has crippled a previously injured industry," the governors said in the letter.
Since the flu outbreak became public last spring, pork producers have lost $330 million in profits, they said. Projecting through October, the governors said those losses could exceed $1 billion and deal a crippling blow to the rural economy.
"As leaders of our states we understand the U.S. pork industry provides about 550,200 jobs in various aspects of the industry ranging from producers to input suppliers to processors and handlers," the governors said.
Iowa is the nation's largest producer of pork. At any time, there are about 19 million hogs in the state, and 63,000 jobs in Iowa are linked to the industry, Culver said. Overall, pork production has a $12 billion impact in Iowa alone, he said.
"We all must do whatever we can to keep this industry viable," Culver said.