To assure consumers that pork is safe, and will continue to be safe to eat, the National Pork Board on Thursday approved funding for a national media advertising program. The advertising, which should begin appearing next week, will be targeted to major daily newspapers and to a variety of Internet-based media.



"We have been conducting nightly consumer research this week to measure consumer reaction to the deluge of information about 'swine flu,'" said Chris Novak, chief executive officer of the National Pork Board. "Even though the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others have said this influenza strain should be called H1N1 and not swine flu, we needed to know if consumer behavior is being impacted."



More than 8 of every 10 consumers continue to believe pork is safe to eat, according to the daily consumer tracking research. And among consumers who have purchased pork products recently, more than 9 in 10 believe it is safe.



"But we know from the research that there is additional work that needs to be done to continue to provide assurances for consumers," Novak said. "In addition to emphasizing the pork safety message, this advertising effort also gives us the opportunity to remind consumers about the nutritional benefits from eating pork."



Novak said that based on the board's approval, plans for the advertising message and for the selection of media are being finalized. Preliminary plans call for using both newspapers with national reach and some regional newspapers, plus online search engines and sites that reach those consumers who make food purchasing decisions.



Additionally, the board approved additional funding for other efforts to get the "pork is safe" message to consumers. Those efforts include making experts about food safety and nutrition available to television stations and to other media.



"The early and extensive reporting of this terrible disease as swine flu, even though international health organizations were saying there has been no proven connection between this virus and pigs, did some damage," Novak said. "It has been devastating for our producers who have seen hog prices fall each day this week.



"But the positive consumer attitudes about the safety of pork we are seeing in our tracking research are good news. We are optimistic that consumers will continue to make pork part of their families' daily meals."



Steve Weaver, a California pork producer and president of the National Pork Board, noted that record-high prices for corn and soybeans over the last year already have put many pork producers in a perilous financial position. "The events of the last week have added to that stress," Weaver said. "The National Pork Board understands these challenges and remains committed to doing whatever it can to help producers in these difficult economic times."



The National Pork Board has responsibility for Checkoff-funded research, promotion and consumer information projects and for communicating with pork producers and the public. Through a legislative national Pork Checkoff, pork producers invest $0.40 for each $100 value of hogs sold. The Pork Checkoff funds national and state programs in advertising, consumer information, retail and foodservice marketing, export market promotion, production improvement, technology, swine health, pork safety and environmental management. For information on Checkoff-funded programs, pork producers can call the Pork Checkoff Service Center at (800) 456-PORK or check the Internet at www.pork.org