SMITHFIELD, Va. (AP) — The chief executive of the largest U.S. pork processor, Smithfield Foods Inc., told employees Thursday that the company is awaiting results from new tests at its facility in Veracruz, Mexico, as fear of the swine flu outbreak deepens.
C. Larry Pope said in a letter to employees that the company has found no evidence of the virus in any of its pig herds or its employees around the world.
In response to continuing global attention on his company's operation in Mexico, Pope said the company decided to do more tests on pigs at its plant in Veracruz state, which is run with a Mexican company. The results will be available in a few days and will be made public, Pope said.
The world is grappling with the possibility of a pandemic of swine flu, which may have originated in Mexico.
U.S. health officials have said the H1N1 virus, which causes swine flu, can not be contracted by eating pork that is properly cooked but is transmitted among people.
Cases of the disease have been confirmed in at least 11 U.S. states. Much of Mexico's capital city has shut down as the country tries to contain the virus, which is suspected of killing more than 160 people in all.
Pope reiterated the pork industry's message that the virus's "swine" label is a misnomer because it is considered a mutation of many viruses. Pope noted that much remains unknown about the virus — how it originated, how it is spreading and when it will run its course — but Smithfield wants to reassure customers its products are safe.
The company routinely vaccinates its swine herds against flu and checks monthly for flu, Pope said.
He said he hoped the cause of the outbreak would be found soon and asked that employees remain focused on keeping Smithfield's products safe.
Shares of Smithfield, Va.-based Smithfield fell 20 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $8.96 in morning trading Thursday.