01-05-2009 00:35 AM | News

United States-Tyson pig farms.





UNITED STATES-TYSONS PIG FARMS.

Local pork farms owned by Springdale-based Tyson Foods Inc. are under closer scrutiny following the swine flu outbreak that originated in Mexico and has spread to the United States in recent days.



Tyson does not operate any pork processing facilities in the affected areas, but the company said its subsidiary’s hog farms in eastern Oklahoma, Northwest Arkansas and parts of Missouri are tightening biosecurity protocols to protect hogs from the virus.

Shares of Tyson Foods fell 9 percent Monday, closing at $9.96. Analysts predict pork sales will likely suffer because China and Russia have already banned imports from affected states, and Mexico is the largest buyer of U.S. pork.



None of Tyson Foods’ six pork export plants have been delisted regarding the flu outbreak, the company confirmed. Tyson operates pork plants in Iowa, Indiana and Nebraska.



"Governments often impose trade bans on sentiment rather than science," said Farha Aslam, food analyst with Stephens Inc. She pointed to the mad cow scare, and its lingering impact on the U.S. beef industry since 2003.



The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people cannot get the hybrid influenza from eating pork or pork products.



"Our pork products are safe," said Gary Mickelson, Tyson spokesman.



He sighted a statement from the CDC Web site that indicates the virus is contagious and believed to be spreading from human to human. None of the 40 U.S. cases of swine flu resulted from contact with pigs and so far no pigs in the U.S. appear to be sick with the virus, the centers noted.



That said, economists say the scare in Mexico alone could alter consumer eating habits which in turn could cost Tyson Foods and other U.S. pork processors in future sales revenue.



Aslam said Tyson’s exposure to pork is about 14 percent of its total sales and is more limited versus its exposure to beef and chicken.



Tyson Pork Exports



In 2008, Tyson’s pork exports to Mexico totaled $202.7 million. China purchased $68 million in pork, while Russia spent $45 million.



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