Emily Meredith
Emily Meredith

In my last blog of 2013, I wrote that my hope for agriculture in 2014 was to be more transparent and to have a sense of humor. It’s probably no surprise to you by now that I think agriculture often takes itself too seriously; that we in the industry sometimes vacillate between a victim mentality and a superiority complex because we produce food.

On January 20, Jon Stewart (of the Daily Show) discussed Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), sow housing and America’s obsession with bacon during his nightly recounting of the news. And to be honest, at first I didn’t know quite how to feel about the sketch.

As a former guest on the Daily Show, I recognize (probably better than anyone) that the show is satirical in nature. They look for topics that they can turn into comedy for the sole purpose of audience chuckles.

But PEDv really isn’t funny.

In all fairness, outside of the trade media, this devastating virus affecting more than 2,000 farms in the United States and now Canada (according to this recent Hog Outlook) hasn’t gotten much news coverage until recently. But, the virus must have reached enough “critical mass” for Fox News to do a story--which is clearly where the writers for the Daily Show picked up this little lead.

But while Jon Stewart accused Fox of “burying the lead,” the truth is, both the Daily Show and Fox (and likely most other mainstream media covering the illness outbreak) all buried the lead: that this virus has seriously affected pork producers’ livelihoods.

The virus, set to trim nearly two percent off 2014 hog slaughter, to date has no cure--though many industry folks are working diligently to develop one. So while the virus has no impacts on food safety or human health, it doesn’t change the fact that the 2,000 farms affected are dealing with sick and dying animals.

Admittedly, I am not an avid Daily Show fan (sorry Jon). So, you may be wondering how I heard of this little episode. Enter Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

Paul, never one to let a good bit of media attention go to waste, sent out a blast email to his followers (of which I am one, for research purposes only, of course) calling the sketch an “incredible demolition of the pork industry.”

I’m sure Paul was referring to Jon’s offhanded comment calling the footage used by Fox a “pig penthouse” and noting that typically pig housing includes “a lot less elbow room and a lot more excrement.”

The footage used by the Daily Show team to accompany that snark showed happy, healthy, contented pigs in individual pens--no excrement in sight (in fact all the pigs looked incredibly clean). As far as b-roll footage goes, I was impressed.

Beyond the “penthouse” jab, however, I didn’t think of the portion of the sketch that referenced sow housing as an assault or critique of modern farming or gestation crates at all. As much as Paul Shapiro may market it as such, I don’t think Jon Stewart is joining the likes of Kristen Bell, Martha Stewart and Ryan Gossling in taking a public stance on best farming practices.

Even through my limited viewership of the Daily Show, I know that if Jon Stewart intends to crucify something or someone, you know it. I could be wrong, but I also don’t think that Mr. Stewart would have rounded out the sketch by talking about Americans’ obsession with bacon, if he had meant to take a stand against the pork industry.

So while Jon clearly buried the lead when it comes to how PEDv is affecting hardworking producers’ livelihoods, I certainly don’t think he demolished the pork industry (sorry, Paul).