During natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, neighbors still pitch in to help clean up and fix up. And when it comes to those who face financial ruin due to a disaster, Americans provide relief in the form of grants and low interest loans.

But Americans seem less likely to bailout an industry when the financial problems were brought on by the industry itself. That's the fine political and public relations line the National Pork Producers Council faces as it tries to help an industry decimated by last winter's $8 per hundredweight hogs-the result of over-production.

In July NPPC proposed a $1 billion U.S. Pork Industry Economic Recovery Action Plan, which contains eight primary actions designed to "address the ongoing economic crisis facing America's pork producers." The plan calls for: a U.S. Department of Agriculture buyout of hogs; increased federal funds for eradicating PRV; opening Canadian markets for U.S. hog slaughter; exporting 100,000 metric tons of pork to Russia; increased purchases of pork for school lunch programs; a pork crisis summit; $600 million for direct cash payments to pork producers with a $50,000 payment limit; and $500,000 to complete an economic analysis and move on cost sharing for building and operating pork slaughter plants.

The plan drew criticism from many circles. In August the National Cattlemen's Beef Association circulated an analysis of the impact that the pork plan would create by two Kansas State University agricultural economists, Ted Schroeder and James Mintert. Their analysis suggests the pork plan would create a severe negative impact on the cattle and beef markets.

Of the eight proposed actions, Dr. Schroeder and Dr. Mintert believe the proposal for USDA to purchase pork (sows and/or market hogs) from producers who agree to reduce their production will create the greatest impact. This proposal would increase the short run supply of pork on the world market. "Shipping free pork to other regions of the world simply displaces U.S. and competing countries' pork exports resulting in depressing world pork prices." They also note that the reduction in domestic pork prices would have a negative impact on retail beef prices. "And reductions in retail beef prices will ultimately cause declines in wholesale, slaughter and feeder cattle markets."

Regarding the proposed direct cash payments to pork producers regardless of size with a $50,000 payment limit, Dr. Schroeder and Dr. Mintert claim a negative impact on both beef and pork producers will be the result. This "policy primarily discourages less efficient hog producers who otherwise might reduce herd size or exit the industry during cyclically low hog prices from exiting the industry. Consequently, this proposal, to the extent it is successful in achieving its objective of reducing financial stress, could actually lengthen the amount of time required to reduce pork supplies which, in turn, means that it could increase the amount of time required before pork prices recover. Since pork is a substitute for beef, this proposal is expected to negatively affect beef and cattle prices."

One could argue that bills with less merit have passed Congress, but it appears unlikely that the pork plan will receive congressional approval. Cattlemen and other agricultural groups are likely to lobby against the measure, and consumer advocates are sure to protest the plan as a waste of taxpayer money. While conceived with good intentions, the pork plan is not likely to provide any relief to struggling family pork producers.