The pork industry finds itself with a serious public relations problem that is not of its own making and, in reality has nothing to do with pigs — SWINE FLU IS A PIG/PORK PROBLEM IN NAME ONLY!

That is the emphatic word over the weekend from both the National Pork Board, the producer checkoff-funded group charged with promoting pork in the U.S. and U.S. pork abroad and conducting production and product research. Perhaps more important from the standpoint of an unbiased source, though, the same message is coming from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which released the following statement:

“Swine influenza viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.”

In addition, the CDC said it has found NO EVIDENCE to indicate that any of the illnesses resulted from contact with pigs.

The outbreak of swine flu is centered in Mexico where 22 deaths are confirmed to have been caused by the virus. Cases in Canada, New Zealand and New York City have been tied to travelers who have been in Mexico. Two cases were reported in Kansas but we could find no more information on these cases over the weekend. The outbreak has caused widespread concern because the virus in question is a unique strain of the H1N1 type of swine influenza. But this is a human disease whose source and spread have nothing to do with pigs. The CDC and other health organizations continue to caution the public that this is a contagious virus that is spread from humans to humans the way viruses are normally spread — primarily through direct contact.

The ironic fact is that, while the National Pork Board tries to protect its products from consumer fears, the more tangible threat is that the virus COULD infect pigs and cause serious production problems for U.S. producers.

Swine influenza (a group of viruses that DO infect pigs) is not uncommon in the U.S. and producers vaccinate animals for the most troublesome strains. The Pork Board says in a news release “At this time, no pigs have

been found to be infected or sick with the virus. It is unknown if this new strain causes any type of illness in swine.

However, because it is novel, the National Pork Board is urging producers to take extra precaution to protect

our industry’s workers and our animals.” The Board goes on to list a number of measures that producers can follow to protect their herds, including heightened biosecurity measures, strict enforcement of sick leave policies, careful management of workers reporting international travel and limiting visitors to swine facilities. Smithfield Foods, which has extensive swine production joint ventures in Mexico, reported on Sunday evening that it “has found no clinical signs or symptoms of the presence of swine flu in the company’s swine herd or its employees [in Mexico].”

The big threat to the U.S. pork industry, of course, would be a disruption of exports. To this point, only Russia has mentioned that possibility but Russia has proven it will use about any reason to limit imports.

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