A Publication of WTVP

Is it “swine flu” or “H1N1 virus”? If you googled both of these names shortly after the widespread media coverage, you would find that 158 million hits came up when “swine flu” was typed in, but only 2.7 million hits when “H1N1 virus” was typed.

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 probably had a wild bird origin, but nonetheless became known as the swine influenza virus because it caused significant mortality in both swine and human populations.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack reassured consumers last month that the hog industry is not connected to the outbreak of the influenza virus. “Eating properly handled and cooked pork or pork products is safe,” he declared.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the recent outbreak is spread by human contact and cannot be transmitted by food. The flu is a respiratory illness and not a food-borne illness. In fact, the H1N1 virus is thought to be a mix of swine, bird and human genes. As of the first week of May, the virus had not been detected in the global swine herd.

It has been determined that Mexico is the epicenter of the outbreak. Some importers of U.S. pork apparently weren’t convinced by the reassurances that pork is safe. The Ukraine, Indonesia, Thailand, Honduras and Croatia banned import of U.S. pork. Russia and China, which last year combined to purchase 27 percent of all U.S. pork exports, also banned imports of U.S. pork from states with confirmed cases of the virus. Egypt began slaughtering about 300,000 pigs as a precaution against the influenza even though no cases had been reported. Egypt responded in a similar manner a few years ago during an outbreak of bird flu.

Commodity markets, particularly in the pork sector, dropped significantly during the last week of April from mounting concerns, uncertainty and even confusion about the hybrid influenza. Within a matter of days, lean hog futures dropped by 12 percent, despite the fact that the new flu strain is spread by human-to-human contact. Price estimates suggest the market reaction within the first few days of the outbreak cost hog producers about $4.8 million, according to the Chicago Mercantile Exchanges Daily Livestock report.

Remember when BSE, or “mad cow disease,” hit the cattle industry in 2003? During the past five years, U.S. beef exporters have regained only about three quarters of the market share they held prior to the finding of BSE. Although any sudden disease outbreak needs to be taken seriously and with a certain degree of urgency, it seems there is often misunderstanding and an overplay by the media. The results are often to the detriment of the American farmer. iBi