Lean times in pork industry

Alberta’s only large-scale hog processor has a future in Red Deer despite the near collapse of Canada’s swine industry, says the chair of Alberta Pork.

Alberta’s only large-scale hog processor has a future in Red Deer despite the near collapse of Canada’s swine industry, says the chair of Alberta Pork.

Herman Simons, who operates a hog farm north of Tees, said on Friday that producers across the country continue to struggle and some farms are still failing in an industry that has been battered from all directions.

Anyone who doubts whether H1N1 flu had an effect on the pork industry just needs to look at how hog prices tanked on April 24, after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed that the virus had infected animals on a farm near Rocky Mountain House, Simons said in his address to Alberta Pork’s regional meeting in Red Deer.

The H1N1 crisis topped off a period of decline brought on by other factors, including mounting production costs and loss of exports due to Canada’s strong dollar.

While no sector of the industry has been spared from sharing the pain, Olymel’s Red Deer plant has been the unexpected recipient of a program that has created extreme strife among producers, mainly in Manitoba, who specialize in raising weaner pigs for sale to feeder barns in the United States.

Enacted by the United States last year, the mandatory Country of Origin Labelling program scuttled the export of leaner pigs, which are now being shipped to Alberta instead. Animals that had been raised for U.S. markets are now being fattened here and processed at Olymel instead, said Simons.

Ultimately, Olymel will be among the survivors as prices slowly recover, he said.

Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, whose riding includes the Red Deer plant, said it’s a major employer and an important player in the city’s economy.

Minister of Seniors and Community Supports for the province, Jablonski said she was invited to the meeting to bring greetings from the province.

“It think we’re concerned . . . because (Olymel) employs so many people and it’s critical in the pork industry.”

Jablonski said she is sympathetic with hog farmers who continue to feel the torment of good decisions gone bad.

“You make a good decision and something comes along and gives you a kick right in the butt. Their last kick in the butt was the H1N1 and the fact that the media and some places are still calling it the swine flu, which really has affected them.”

Simons said in his address that Alberta Pork tapped its 2008-09 budget to mount a publicity campaign assuring people that pork raised in Canada is safe, healthy and tasty.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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