Mexico's economy and public infrastructure are still reeling from the outbreak of H1N1 influenza, and meat and poultry industry representatives from Mexico say there are lessons to be learned about the fragility of the world's health system and the need for better preparation on the part of governments and businesses – especially the meat and poultry industries.
Pork consumption fell 80% and prices fell 25% from April to May following the H1N1 outbreak. In the same period, the average price of pork in Mexican pesos fell from $20.53 per kilo to $16.35 per kilo.
Now the country is dealing with its worst economic crisis in years – on par with the tequila crisis of 1995, an economic downturn of historic proportion for Mexico. Speaking at the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council Executive Conference & Annual Membership Meeting, Eugenio Salinas, the chairman of Consejo Mexicano de la Carne, a leading meat industry group in Mexico, outlined industry responses that helped shore up consumer confidence.
COMECARNE, for example, was instrumental in getting the name of the flu in the outbreak changed from swine flu to human flu. The group also engaged in consumer education, telling consumers pork consumption was safe and not related to catching the flu.
In the wake of the outbreak, the group also pushed five major initiatives: a campaign to restore pork consumption; government procurements; lines of credit; money to support grain purchases; and import substitution by the processing industry.
Salinas, and Cesar de Anda, former UNA president and chairman of the NAFTA Egg and Poultry Partnership, expressed great concern over continued pronouncements by the country’s minister of health that stoke public fear of the potential for an avian flu outbreak.
"The minister has repeatedly reassured consumers over H1N1 by saying 'at least it's not the bird flu which would be worse,'" de Anda said.
Mexico's pork industry, fortunately, did not lose its major export market, Japan. Sales there fell, however, by 15%, said Salinas.
"The experience with H1N1 influenza shows how fragile the world health system is and how easily a new virus can circulate around the world," he said.
"Last month pork was adversely affected; next time it could be beef or pork or poultry. We have to be prepared to act immediately. Let’s keep working together on a strategic crisis plan for a future outbreak."
Cesar de Anda