Vilsack: Incorrect references to flu virus harms agriculture
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
The USDA's message on the H1N1 virus is two-fold: Pork is safe to eat and the media should stop perpetuating the mislabeling of the virus as "swine" flu.
"Each time the term is used it unfairly hurts America's farmers who are suffering severe economic losses during these challenging economic times," said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack at a recent press conference.
H1N1 hasn't been detected in the U.S. swine herd, he said.
"Swine flu has been present in the United States for over 80 years, but the 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza virus now circulating among humans is not the same as swine flu," he said. "It is simply not fair or correct to associate ... H1N1 influenza with hogs, an animal that does not play a role in the ongoing transmission of the pandemic strain."
Neither H1N1 nor swine flu are transmitted through eating or handling pork, according to the World Organization for Animal Health, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That fact didn't prevent huge losses to the pork industry after the first reports of the H1N1 outbreak in April. Consumer demand for pork declined, and some countries closed their doors to U.S. pork.
The National Pork Producers Council tallies actual and projected losses from April 24 to the end of 2009 at nearly $2.2 billion.
"I want folks who are in this business of conveying messages to understand that behind that message there is a family today ... wondering how they're going to be able to pay the bills when they continually sell pork for less than what it costs to produce, and they continue to get hammered for something that they have absolutely nothing to do with," Vilsack said.
"The U.S. pork industry is grateful to Secretary Vilsack for his strong words to the media about using the term H1N1," said National Pork Producers Council President Don Butler. "With the fall flu season weeks away, it is imperative to the livelihoods of America's 67,000 pork producers that the novel H1N1 influenza be referred by its proper name."
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said the term "swine flu" is all over the Internet, including the website of the CDC.
"We may be trying to move a mountain here, but it's an important mountain to move," she said.
Staff writer Carol Ryan Dumas is based in Twin Falls. E-mail: email@example.com.