While I realize that "blaming the media" is just as cliché as blaming the government or society, I can't help but get periodically annoyed with media coverage of certain events. And yes, I realize I am "the media" but I like to think of myself as a more rational, down-to-earth (and even, slightly cooler) member of the press.
As I write this, thousands, if not millions, of people throughout the U.S. are buying Lysol in bulk, donning surgical masks, forgoing their pork chops – essentially, panicking over the "swine" flu pandemic. I am not one of them. This is not to say I am not sensitive to any of the illnesses or deaths surrounding it, however, I prefer to examine the facts more closely.
First of all, the World Health Organization has declared this a Phase 5 pandemic. Considering the scale goes from 1-6, I can see how this would seem ominous. However, per WHO, a Phase 5 pandemic is "characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region." Significantly less intimidating right?
Of course, as the editor of a food industry publication, I am always concerned about the effect that media attention has on specific markets. The already-struggling pork industry does not need the economic disaster that could result from linking pork consumption with a pandemic. In fact, the American Meat Institute has estimated that just the export ban alone will cost the U.S. pork industry roughly $13.6 million per week. Already, countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, Croatia and Ukraine have banned U.S. pork.
The headline on the homepage of the National Pork Producers Council website reads, "Pork is safe to eat and handle." The NPPC wants to make it clear that the flu is a respiratory disease – NOT a food-borne illness. The association is also urging the pork industry to address the misinformation surrounding the influenza outbreak as well as urging the media to discontinue the use of the term "swine flu."
Interestingly enough, the current flu outbreak in humans is due to a new strain of influenza A virus (subtype H1N1) that to date, has not been isolated in pigs (per the World Organization for Animal Health). Furthermore, there have been no proven links between the human flu cases and possible cases in swine. The influenza was dubbed "swine flu" only due to the fact that the closest relatives to the flu strain are found in swine.
I absolutely support the movement to re-name the influenza ("North American Influenza" has been suggested). Food Manufacturing readers are in a unique position in situations such as this one, because they play dual roles as both prominent members of the food industry, as well everyday consumers. This enables them to set good examples by turning to the right sources for information and not falling victim to media hype.