Ending the flu frenzy over pigs and pork

barn2They’ve finally listened. Yesterday, the World Health Organization announced that they were re-naming what everyone’s been calling “swine flu” to H1N1 Influenza A.

Pandemic frenzy has taken hold as we grapple with this new flu that has emerged. It was quickly dubbed “swine flu” even though it really has nothing to do with pigs or pork – and that misnomer has led to all sorts of misinformation, dubious reports and irrational behaviours in countries right around the world.

For example, two nights ago, I read online (on a reputable Canadian news outlet website) that Egypt had just decided to destroy all 300,000 pigs in their country. The next morning, less than 12 hours later, I read in my daily newspaper that Egypt had already slaughtered its entire pig herd of 300,000 animals. Boy that was fast!

And later that same day, as I was watching the news while at the gym, I heard a third news outlet refer to the fact that Egypt had slaughtered all 30,000 pigs in that country – yes, 30,000, not 300,000 as everyone else was reporting, no typo here.

If so many things can be just a little bit off in such a small news item, how many other facts in the bigger news story of this influenza outbreak could also be suspect?

This flu has very little to do with pigs and you certainly can’t catch it from eating pork.  There are no confirmed H1N1 cases in Egypt and yet that country took the drastic step of unnecessarily culling pigs. Other countries around the world, like Russia and China, have banned pork imports from regions where H1N1 influenza has been identified.

For Canada and for farmers, this is a blow as it is actions like these that help fuel the flu frenzy and contribute to the spread of fear and misinformation. We export more than 50 per cent of the pork we produce in this country, so our foreign markets are key to keeping family farms profitable and in business.

Times have been tough in the pork business over the last couple of years as farmers have struggled with low prices, a fluctuating dollar (the prices farmers receive for their pigs in Canada are based on the US currency) and escalating costs for feed and energy.

And farmers in Canada work hard to raise their animals properly – the Canadian pork industry probably has some of the strictest protocols of any country in the world when it comes to keeping pigs healthy.

This outbreak was the last thing they needed, but hopefully this name change to H1N1 will help calm some of these fears and let people know that trying to avoid influenza doesn’t also mean avoiding pork.

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