Industry News | May 1, 2009

Pork Industry Fights Unfair Flu Name

This week the pork industry is learning the hard way that there's a lot in a name.

There’s no need to connect the dots much more than to mention two words: swine flu.

Ever since the outbreak began to dominate media headlines this week, the pork industry has been fighting the bad rep and now it’s working to have the flu’s name changed all together.

“The name change is very important to the pork industry,” says Cindy Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Pork Board. “You cannot get this from eating pork, and it is not found in U.S. swine or in swine anywhere in the world. To label it as ‘swine flu’ as opposed to the more appropriate ‘H1N1’ really does impact pork producers.”

And it impacts them in a bad way. Hog prices were still dropping yesterday despite the announcement that even the World Health Organization will not use the term “swine flu.” The organization said it would refer to the flu as Influenza A, joining the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the president, and the USDA in the name-change effort. Other groups are referring to the flu as H1N1, after the type of virus responsible for the outbreak.

"Attempting to connect modern farming and ranching to the current flu outbreak is a huge stretch and is completely irresponsible," says Kay Johnson Smith, Executive Vice President for the Animal Agriculture Alliance,” in a statement. But with all the hardball lobbying to change the illness’ name, it’s debatable whether the industry is helping or hurting its cause. After all, the name-change debate does keep the issue high in the week’s news hierarchy.

"What we call this flu is important," says Chris Novak, CEO of the National Pork Board, in a statement.

Cunningham says the popularity of the term “swine flu” seems to be coming from the press and that the organization is working to educate journalists of the change to H1N1 flu.

According to Peter Cowen, associate professor of epidemiology and public health at North Carolina State University, the virus is being called "swine flu" because of the 1918 outbreak in Spain. That virus, Cowen says, became known as the swine influenza virus because it caused significant mortality in both swine and human populations.

Check out what QSR industry leaders are saying on their blogs about the recent outbreak and its affect on the restaurant industry.

--Blair Chancey

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