Rushville Republican

Agriculture

August 15, 2012

Producers want the "swine" out of swine flu

RUSHVILLE — What's in a name? Everything if you're a pork producer and the name of the newest health scare makes people think twice about eating bacon.

The fast rise in the number of people diagnosed with the so-called "swine flu" over the last week has sent pork futures tumbling and re-awakened bad memories of the 2009 flu scare bearing the same name.

Health officials have gone to great lengths to call the new bug by a more official name, the variant influenza A (H3N2v), and to tell people it's safe to eat pork.

But the people who make their living raising and selling hogs fear its the other label that will stick, pointing to headlines that read: "Swine flu cases surge."

"It's amazing the impact of a name," said Mike Platt, executive director of the Indiana Pork Producers Association. "It's all about labeling and perception."

Indiana is the epicenter of what appears to be a new flu strain that's been dubbed the "swine flu" for a reason. It has the largest number of confirmed human cases in the U.S as of Thursday, at 120; and state health officials said all of those people infected with the bug got it from handling sick pigs.

The very first human case of a variant influenza A (H3N2v) was detected in Indiana in July 2011 Ñ found in a child who routinely handled pigs.

The Centers for Disease Control calls the variant influenza A (H3N2v) a "swine virus," meaning its yet to be detected as being passed from human to human, though it could be soon. The CDC also said this new flu strand carries genetic similarities to the first "swine flu" Ñ the H1N1 virus that sickened hundreds of thousands globally in 2009 and plunged the U.S. pork industry into a financial crisis when people stopped eating pork.

There is some bitter irony for pork producers this summer: The early detection of this new flu strand, and the loud alarm bells rung by health officials in response, stems in large part from the ramped efforts to test pigs for new flu virus strains after the H1N1 pandemic.

Now, as back then, health officials are saying there's absolutely no reason to stop eating pork or visiting pigs. But now, as back then, the message may not be getting through.

Unlike most crop farmers that have crop insurance that covers their losses, most hog farmers are without.

Indiana's pork industry, which employs about 13,000 people, took a massive financial hit in 2009 when people stopped eating pork. State agricultural officials estimated pork producers suffered a $50 million loss.

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