U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has urged reporters to refer to the current flu virus as H1N1 and not “swine” flu. The comments were made at a media briefing Thursday.
“The job of the media is to get it right and not necessarily to get it convenient,” said Vilsack. “To get it [the virus name] right, it’s H1N1. It is fundamentally different [from swine flu], it’s unique, we’ve never seen it before.”
The secretary told reporters that calling the virus “swine” flu “upsets the markets, it upsets these producers, and it didn’t have to be. It’s just as easy to say ‘H1N1’ as it is to say ‘swine.’
“Some media outlets have been responsive and sensitive to this, but there’s really not been a concerted effort by the media to do a good job, a correct job of making sure this is characterized properly.”
Days after the H1N1 outbreak was first widely reported April 24, the World Health Organization named the virus “Influenza A,” and the World Organization for Animal Health said it never should have been named “swine” flu.
“I want folks who are in this business of conveying messages,” said Vilsack, “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.”
Cash hog prices fell sharply in the three weeks following initial media reports of the H1N1 flu outbreak, as consumer demand for pork dropped and some U.S. trading partners closed their markets to U.S. pork over fears of the media misnamed “swine” flu. The total of actual and projected pork industry revenue reductions from April 24 to the end of 2009 is nearly $2.2 billion.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, H1N1 flu is not transmitted by food, and people cannot get H1N1 from eating or handling pork or pork products.
“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.”
Also, see the H1N1 Resource Center on Porkmag.com.