Panic. Destruction. Misinformation. Ignorance. Negligence. What do all of these terms have in common? They all describe the media and its role in the devastation of the pork industry through the “swine” flu.
Members of the media pride themselves in providing accurate news to the public. However, I sometimes wonder, is the media more concerned with education, or with “breaking a story” and selling their product?
In the case of the “swine” flu, it seemed to be the latter. The correct term for this flu is actually H1N1, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, H1N1 is actually a combination of flu viruses that are in European and Asian pigs, birds and humans.
So why was this flu so poorly named in the beginning? The CDC says because preliminary testing showed genes from flu illnesses that are present in North American pigs. However, they were wrong, and the media didn’t seem to care, even when it was changed.
Calling H1N1 the swine flu caused widespread panic across the globe. People acted instinctively, instead of reasonably.
According to the BBC, Egypt slaughtered between 250,000 and 400,000 animals to prevent the swine flu. People across the globe decided not to eat U.S. pork, which has been detrimental to the industry. Eleven countries have banned the import of U.S. pork. The pork industry is projected to lose $710 million annually if trade is not opened back up, according to The American Meat Institute.
The media’s coverage of H1N1 helped to cause an 11 percent drop in pork trade around the world, according to the United Nations’ data. This will have an impact on every country that imports or exports pork.
Even citizens of the U.S. decided that our pork supply wasn’t safe. In a press conference in April, Janet Napolitano, U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, said, “You should also know that you couldn’t get H1N1 from eating pork. Pork products are perfectly safe.” However, the media didn’t widely publicize these statements, so people believed our supply of pork was tainted.
What you don’t know is that it would be very difficult to expose our pork supply to this illness. Every major commercial swine operation has biosecurity measures in place.
One example is that employees are required to “shower-in” and “shower-out” of the facilities and wear clothes that only stay on the inside. This prevents disease spread both into and out of the facility. Now, had the public known all this information, would they still be worried about the U.S. pork supply being tainted?
So who is to blame for the problems the term “swine” flu created? There are three parties. The media certainly should be held responsible for the lack of sensitivity they showed. Someone somewhere should have thought what using the term “swine” would have on the pork industry. Just because the virus had traces of the swine flu gene in it did not make it the same thing as real porcine influenza.
The second party to blame is the pork industry itself. If the industry had worked on being more proactive, and informing the public themselves, they may not be facing the economic crisis that they are.
The third party to blame is the public themselves. Too many times the public believes everything they see or hear, without investigating further. The media is supposed to be there to inform, but I’m sure everyone can think of a situation when news reports were inaccurate.
When you heard all of the information about H1N1, what did you believe? Knowledge is power. The media holds a large power over the public, but it is your responsibility to take the news you read and decide what to believe and how to react.