The crisis has passed. Well, at least the worst seems to be over. Fears that eating pork or coming into close proximity with hogs will put you at risk for infection from the H1N1 virus, a.k.a. "swine flu," seem to have disappeared except in the dark corners of the Internet where conspiracy theories are swapped like baseball cards. The World Health Organization and the U.S.’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced almost immediately after the crisis, which appears to have originated in Mexico in March or early April, began to create headlines that pork and hogs have nothing to do with it (the WHO called the name swine flu "not justified"), and that message not only caught on with a relieved pork industry but also, soon enough, with the general public. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also issued a statement emphasizing the safety of pork and hog production.
The new question, however, is: What now for pork?
"I feel for the pork industry, I really do. This situation has taken up all of their time," Kay Johnson Smith, executive vice president of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, an industry-funded group that works to dispel misleading information issued by animal-rights organizations, told MEATPOULTRY.com. "It’s frustrating when you’re the industry that’s been targeted by rumors."
The AAA was among several agricultural groups that issued statements supporting the pork industry in the immediate wake of the WHO’s and CDC’s statements. The group said it was "extremely dismayed, but not surprised, to learn that a number of groups have attempted to use the recent outbreak of H1N1 influenza to advance their anti-modern agriculture and animal rights agendas."
In particular, AAA noted, the animal rights groups aimed harsh criticism at modern livestock production, "despite the disease not yet having been found in an animal. The vast majority of America’s farm animals are kept in barns and similar housing to protect their health and welfare. Modern housing protects animals from predators, disease, and bad weather or extreme climate. It is also well-ventilated, well-lit, clean, and scientifically-designed to meet an animal's specific needs - including temperature, light, water and food."
How does the industry now re-convince a skeptical public that pork production and eating pork are not part of some evil plot hatched by greed-drunk agricultural capitalists to make money at any cost? "We need to keep to keep telling the story about the benefits of modern production practices, especially now as those benefits concern controlling disease," Smith said. "We can do it with marketing efforts, but it’s important that there’s a lot of one-on-one too. Go out and tell your neighbors. Show that modern livestock production is humane for the animals and safe for the environment."
According to AAA, modern livestock housing, including large-scale sow barns, "is designed to allow the farmer to provide the best animal care possible. Modern designs drastically reduce introduction of disease vectors and are easy to clean, reducing opportunities for diseases to spread." In the organization’s statement, Smith commented: "Because modern livestock facilities are designed to meet animals’ specific needs, these facilities are better for controlling and reducing diseases than allowing animals to have uncontrolled interactions with wild animals and other potential disease vectors. Attempting to connect modern farming and ranching to the current flu outbreak is a huge stretch and is completely irresponsible."
"We do want food and animals to be safe," she told MEATPOULTRY.com. "What we don’t want are unreasonable or irresponsible burdens placed on producers."