The pork industry is facing one of its worst struggles in memory and an unwanted link to the so-called swine flu is exacerbating problems, experts told Congress on Thursday.

"Over the past 24 months, pork producers have lost an average of $23 on each hog marketed ... and things look bleak going forward," said Don Butler, president of the National Pork Producers Council.

Butler and other industry leaders testified to the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poulty.

Experts told the panel that the media labeling the H1N1 flu virus as "swine flu" was an unforeseen blow to an industry that already was struggling with its bottom line.

Butler said research by the National Pork Producers Council showed a short-term reduction in pork prices immediately after the swine flu label stuck on the H1N1 virus. He says the council's research also shows a lasting negative connotation in the eyes of some consumers even though the USDA has said that swine flu cannot be transmitted by eating pork products.

Mark Greenwood, a vice president at AgStar Financial Services in Mankato, Minn., said the sustained struggle of pork producers distinguishes what is going on now from previous troughs in the industry. He said a downturn in the hog industry in 1998 and 1999 does not compare to the current crisis because it was much shorter and less severe. He also said producers who survived that downturn have more at stake now.

"I think producers that are left — they're committed to the industry," Greenwood said. "In 1998 and 1999, folks had more flexibility."

The testimony about the industry's struggles came days after the USDA confirmed that a Minnesota pig was the first pig in the country to contract the H1N1 virus.

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