TORONTO - Canada's embattled pork industry is on the defensive against misconceptions that pork products are associated with swine flu, a virus that hasn't actually been linked to pigs.
Both China and Russia have already banned imports of pork products from Mexico and three U.S. states, while other governments have stepped up their screening processes to prevent the spread of the virus.
The swift international response has sent U.S. hog futures prices - which value the selling value of pigs on the market - into a downward spiral.
At the same time, stock prices of major U.S. pork product suppliers like Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN), and Smithfield Foods (NYSE:SFD) were down about 10 per cent afternoon trading.
Canadian supplier Maple Leaf Foods (TSX:MFI), which doesn't operate in Mexico, lost 1.3 per cent, or 11 cents, to $8.38 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The growing misunderstanding about the cause and carriers of swine flu could have a devastating impact on distressed domestic pork producers, said Paul Hodgman, executive director of Alberta Pork, an industry organization of pork producers.
''The last two years have been extremely difficult for our industry,'' he said in an interview.
''We've never had a period this bad for this long in the history of the pork industry in Canada.''
Hodgman said the pork industry has been hit by weaker demand for pork products while at the same time paying higher feed prices.
Exports have been a cornerstone for the industry. Canada is one of the top three farm animal exporters in the world, and it ships about 60 per cent of farm animals outside the country to about 100 countries, he said.
However, Richard Besser, acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, emphasized that swine flu is not spread by food.
''You can't get this from eating pork,'' he said.
''Cook your pork appropriately so you don't get other infectious diseases, but influenza is not transmitted from eating pork or pork products, they are safe.''
Major Canadian companies like Maple Leaf and Olymel LP distribute pork products in Canada, and neither company was immediately available for comment.