Vilsack to media : Call flu 'H1N1', not 'swine flu'

by MEAT&POULTRY Staff
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WASHINGTON – After months of enduring some members of the media erroneously and continuously referring to the novel H1N1 flu as swine flu, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack strongly urged reporters on Sept. 10 to start referring to the virus by its correct name, relays the National Pork Producers Council.

"The job of the media is to get it right and not necessarily to get it convenient," Mr. Vilsack said. "To get [the virus name] right, it’s H1N1. It is fundamentally different [from swine flu], it’s unique, we’ve never seen it before."

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,’" Mr. Vilsack said. "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," he added.

Shortly after the H1N1 outbreak was first announced on 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 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," Mr. Vilsack said.

In the three weeks following initial media reports of the H1N1 flu outbreak, cash hog prices fell sharply as consumer demand for pork dropped and some U.S. trading partners closed their markets to U.S. pork over fears of what the media misnamed "swine" flu. As a result, the total of actual and projected pork industry revenue reductions from April 24 to the end of 2009 is nearly $2.2 billion.

H1N1 flu is not transmitted by food, and people cannot get H1N1 from eating or handling pork or pork products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The U.S. pork industry is grateful to Secretary Vilsack for his strong words to the media about using the term H1N1," said Don Butler, National Pork Producers Council president. "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."

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