Swine Flu Gives Pork a Bad Name

Photo courtesy of Flick user The Pug Father

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Fewer little piggies are going to market, and farmers are scrambling. News of the now-ubiquitous swine flu fills the headlines (what recession?), everyone’s either got it, has symptoms, or can’t get the virus off their RSS feeds (sorry). Even the “swine” in swine flu is presenting some with opportunities. The advocacy group Farm Sanctuary has taken the swine flu’s 15 minutes and released an advisory on the ills of factory farmed pork. True, the pandemic may represent a policy window for proposed legislation to better regulate mass production of pork, but officials are now saying that the flu’s name is misleading.

Also called the North American flu or the catchy “H1N1” virus, swine flu is the name that’s stuck (except in Israel where they’ve pulled the swine reference since no one eats pork in that Jewish/Muslim mess-of-a-state and apparently therefore no one would care?). Earlier today Ag secretary Tom Vilsack practically begged people to stop using “swine flu” and to start referring to the illness by its scientific name HIN1. Too bad the science didn’t work out to C3PO.

The pig part of this is confusing. The Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health points out that the virus contains avian and human components and that not a single pig so far has been found ill with the disease. The connection comes from the fact that “the virus that is circulating includes genetic components of human, avian, and swine origin” (and “avian flu” was already taken). Indeed, US Trade rep Ron Kirk confirmed: “We want to say to consumers here and abroad that there is no risk to you, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that there is any link between consuming pork, prepared pork products, and the H1N1 virus.”

Still, despite the fact that no pigs have the virus, and that the virus isn’t spread via animals several countries have moved to ban US pork imports, including Russia and China. So I guess next time you pig out (especially if it’s on local and small ag other white meat) you can feel good about supporting a troubled market.

Meanwhile, does this let spinach off the hook for a little while?

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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