Iowa Public Television


Pork Industry Copes with Public Perception of H1N1

posted on May 1, 2009

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Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. In a televised press conference Wednesday night, President Obama didn't say a single word about "swine flu." But he talked at length about the outbreak of the "H1N1" virus.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, discovered the never-before-seen strain of influenza -- a unique blend of bird, human and pig viruses. Scientifically, it's part of the Type A/H1N1 family of influenza, and CDC officials shortened the name to "swine flu."

But authorities in other U.S. agencies, particularly the Agriculture Department, were concerned that name might confuse people into thinking they can catch the virus from eating pork -- which everyone agrees is impossible.

Mexico has the largest outbreak of H1N1, but no one really knows where the virus began. And while U.S. officials are concerned about the spread of H1N1, they claim calling it "swine flue" is hogwash.

Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Health: "A pandemic is a pandemic and forget the letters and the numbers…"

On Tuesday, the Senate convened a Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee to address challenges regarding the recent influenza outbreak.

Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Health: "What we have is an H1N1. We have never seen anything like this…"

While the threat to human health is of paramount importantance, committee chair Senator Tom Harkin expressed concern over the outbreak's negative impact on agriculture.

Sen. Tom Harkin, (D) Iowa: "We don't have one hog in the United States that has this flu that we know of."

Dr. John Clifford, UDSA: "That we know of, we don't have one single pig in the US that has this particular virus."

Sen. Tom Harkin, (D) Iowa: "And as far as we know we don't know of any in Mexico either?"

Dr. John Clifford, UDSA: "That's correct. In fact, I've received a communication from my counterpart in Mexico indicating that to their knowledge, thus far, they have no knowledge of pigs with this virus."

Sen. Tom Harkin, (D) Iowa: "That's why I'm really sorry that this has taken on the connotation of swine flu. I don't know how that happened and somebody just started talking about it. I opened the paper today with pictures of pigs and hogs as though all of them were infected with this."

Harkin was not the only one lamenting the virus's name. On Thursday, the World Health Organization announced it would stop referring to the H1N1 influenza virus as swine flu to avoid misleading consumers that eating pork poses any health risk. The policy shift came a day after Egypt had already began slaughtering the nation's 300,000 hogs and pigs.

Dr. Butch Baker, Iowa State University: "It is virtually impossible to catch this virus from pork, even if it were raw but certainly if you cook it."

At Iowa State University in Ames, researchers are studying on the risk the H1N1 virus poses to the swine population. According to USDA, 70% of the nation's swine herd is already inoculated for H1 influenza. While human health is the chief concern, some scientists actually are more concerned over the potential for the virus to spread from humans to swine.

Dr. Butch Baker, Iowa State University: "There is so much opportunity for this virus spreading quickly among humans, there's going to be opportunity for it to reach our pig heards. By next week we'll know if this virus will infect pigs and they will know if it transmits from pig to pig. So after next week we will have a lot more information on the pig side of this virus."


Tags: agriculture animals H1N1 health industry influenza Iowa livestock meat news pigs pork