By Agri-Pulse staff
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 17 – U.S. pork producers are partnering with the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) to provide pork for victims of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern sections of Japan on March 11. Estimates are that more than a half million Japanese residents are without adequate food and shelter. Food shortages are expected to last into the summer months.

On behalf of U.S. pork producers and importers, the National Pork Board has allocated $100,000 from the Pork Checkoff to provide pork product and to help get it distributed to those in need in Japan, said Conley Nelson, a pork producer from Iowa and a member of the National Pork Board. USMEF, which represents the U.S. meat industry in Japan from its office in Tokyo, will work with U.S. pork packers and others who have established distribution networks in Japan to make sure the food gets to those who need it.

The goal of the outreach program is to ensure that food requiring little or no preparation - such as pre-made bento (lunch) boxes - can be provided to people who have been displaced.

"Our hearts go out to the Japanese people who have suffered from this terrible natural disaster," said Nelson. "The United States has named its relief efforts in Japan Operation Tomodachi, or Operation Friendship. In the spirit of friendship, U.S. pork producers are pleased that we can become a small part of the effort to help alleviate the suffering of those affected by the earthquake."

Japan is the No. 1 export market for U.S. pork and National Pork Producers Council President Doug Wolf said “Providing safe, wholesome pork, the meat of choice in Japan, is the best way pork producers can help that country get back on its feet.”

The United States and Japan have a long-standing relationship involving pigs and pork. The Pork Checkoff has promoted pork in Japan for many years and has built a loyal customer base. In recent years, Japan has been the top export customer for U.S. Pork. In 2010, Japan purchased $1.6 billion of U.S. Pork. It is natural that we would continue to provide these great customers with high quality U.S. Pork in their time of need, Nelson said.

Just over 50 years ago, the Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan was hit by two typhoons and lost much of its agricultural infrastructure in the disaster. A U.S. Air Force sergeant from Iowa, who was serving in Tokyo at the time, worked with the U.S. embassy in Tokyo to arrange for some Iowa hogs to be sent to Japan to help the Japanese rebuild their hog industry. To this day, much of the pork raised in Japan has genetic links to those Iowa pigs. Last summer, several Iowa pork producers were part of a group that visited Japan to celebrate the 50th anniversary of what has become known as the Iowa Hog Lift.
"As an American pork producer, I am proud that U.S. pork producers and importers through the National Pork Board are the first to step forward and provide seed money for this critical initiative," said Danita Rodibaugh, chair-elect of USMEF and a pork producer from Rensselaer, Ind.  "We are hopeful that others will join us and offer their support for the people of Japan who have been great friends of U.S. agriculture."

The National Pork Board is encouraging others in the pork industry to match their contribution and expand the reach of this effort.  Those interested in participating either through pork product donations or monetary donations, should contact Jim Herlihy at USMEF, or (303) 623-6328
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