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Pigs Fly First Class

There will be no in-flight movie or cocktails but the squealing passengers on the 16-hour one-way trip will fly first class.

About 235 hogs specially selected for their genes will be flown from Chicago to South Korea in June to rebuild the herd there that has been decimated by foot-and-mouth disease.

Tony Clayton, president of Clayton Agri-Marketing Inc., a Jefferson City, Missouri-based animal-shipping business, has been tasked with getting the animals across safely.

“They travel really well. They have enough room to lay down, enough room to walk and get water. They travel better than some of us people in economy class,” said Clayton, who could be considered a travel agent of sorts for livestock.

Three 747s filled with Clayton’s hogs will fly to South Korea in June and more will follow as the rebuilding will take years as about 35 per cent of that country’s herd was destroyed.

South Korea is the fourth-largest market for U.S. pork, but in late 2010 banned hog imports as it fought to contain foot-and-mouth disease. It has since relaxed that ban and Clayton’s hogs will be the first shipped this year.

While Clayton’s focus is now on South Korea, his attention will soon turn to China.

China’s growing population and economy have pressured leaders there to increase meat production, particularly pork. It recently lifted a two-year ban on U.S. hogs and pork, clearing the way for hogs to fly there.

“The Chinese will probably come in and regain being the best customer in Asia,” he said.

Barring a souring economy or other unexpected events, Clayton estimates China could buy 10,000 breeding hogs a year for the next couple of years.

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