Global pig losses caused by African swine fever (ASF) now number in the millions. The disease, which is capturing the world’s attention, is causing a very troubling and growing global meat protein shortage.  

History teaches us that hungry people are desperate people. My father Neal grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, joining the U.S. Marine Corps in 1951. Even in 1950, many parts of Europe, Asia and North Africa were still shattered following the war.

Millions of people had been killed. Cities were slowly trying to rebuild from the rubble. Farms were destroyed. People had starved. Civil and political unrest were roiling across the globe. The Cold War had begun.

My father’s Marine division was attached to the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea with orders to support the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which was formed in 1949 to safeguard the freedom and security of all its European members.

For six months in 1951, my father participated in show-of-force amphibious military landing exercises across Denmark, Scotland, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, where he witnessed lingering destruction, hunger, poverty and violence.

Perhaps nothing was more shocking to the South Dakota farm boy than what he saw upon arriving in Italy. When his Navy troopship pulled into port in Naples, hungry, ragged children ran onto the dock begging servicemen for food and money. As Marines and sailors tossed them coins and food, adults lingering in the area would rush up to the dock, whip and beat the children and steal that money and food. Hungry people are also violent people.

Leading with Food

It’s a scene my father never forgot. The poverty and hunger he witnessed as a child in the U.S. during the “Dirty ‘30s” and the rationing during the war paled in comparison to what he saw in conflict-torn Europe.

Growing up on our farm, food might have been basic, but it was available. However, as a farmer, he also knew the tremendous productive power of American agriculture, and the U.S. did not stand idly by during these tumultuous times. Since America’s farms, infrastructure and industry hadn’t been destroyed, the United States was in a unique position to help rebuild war-torn areas and keep the peace.

When U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall received reports that Europe was on the brink of famine by 1947, he spearheaded the European Recovery Program. Commonly known as the Marshall Plan, the reconstruction program enacted in 1948 provided more than $15 billion to help finance rebuilding efforts in Europe and to support food distribution efforts to save people from starvation.

1948 also marked the start of the Cold War that pitted the United States and its allies against the Soviet Union. The U.S. geared up to protect its borders and allies from violent ideologies while unleashing the massive productive power of U.S. agriculture to feed the world. It was a success unprecedented in the history of humanity.

Déjà vu All Over Again

As we look at the foreign animal disease (FAD) risks now facing pig farming, combined with the growing global meat protein shortage, there are eerie similarities to 1950. We need to protect the U.S. against the threat of ASF while unleashing the power of American pork producers to fill the protein hole. We need a Cold War FAD defense strategy coupled with a Marshall Plan to get pork where it is needed.

America’s pig farmers, already the most efficient producers of safe, affordable and nutritious pork, now have the opportunity to make this a more stable, peaceful world by stepping in where there are food/protein shortages. That opportunity is not without challenges. That’s why the Checkoff is focusing on five priorities in 2020, including:

  1. FAD prevention and preparedness — ASF is the pork industry’s “cold war” threat, and it demands constant vigilance and preparedness. We are adding to our team of animal health experts to provide the horsepower to work rapidly. The team is backed by a multi-million-dollar budget to work with our pork allies to meet this challenge.
  2. We CareSM — If we are going to meet global meat demand with our own “Marshall Plan,” we will need the social license and freedom to operate in the U.S. Maintaining that support will require a massive new commitment by the entire U.S. pork industry to embrace the We Care ethical principles.

    We need an aggressive grassroots plan to encourage all pig farmers, including contract growers, to get involved and share their stories to build public trust in today’s pig farming. This effort will require teamwork with the states and the National Pork Producers Council to get the message out.
  3. International marketing focused on opportunities — Global pork demand is rising rapidly, and the Checkoff is devoting resources to recapture share in key export markets impacted by trade disputes.

    The competitive market intelligence from the Checkoff’s new groundbreaking Pork 2040 research will help us work with the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) to prioritize emerging markets, particularly those experiencing pork protein shortfalls from ASF.
  4. Domestic marketing focused on sustainability, human health and nutrition — While exports will be critical to meet global meat demand, U.S. consumers at home are being led to believe that the food they eat will either “cure them or kill them.”

    The Checkoff has a duty to engage the public and let consumers know the truth about pork as a sustainable, essential part of a healthy diet. Protein is king and our industry produces real pork to meet those nutritional needs.
  5. Creating a research and innovation hub — Getting this work underway also will require factual answers to questions about our industry, all at the speed of business. The world is drowning in data, but starving for insight. So, we are developing a research and innovation process to focus on helping producers and the supply chain find the signal in the noise to either lower costs or to increase revenue. Data to Insights to Action.

To Protect and Produce

Your National Pork board of directors approved major Pork Checkoff changes in 2019. All of my CEO columns this past year have highlighted the changes necessary to position the Checkoff as your relevant, agile business partner. 2020 will focus on executing that direction and the board’s vision.

Thank you for your input and support as we protect and produce pork.

Bill Even

Bill Even

CEO, National Pork Board