Effort to Change Name of Swine Disease Uphill Battle

Hoosier Perspectives

Focus should be on education, not the name.

Published on: July 22, 2013

Commodity groups do tremendous things in Indiana. The new Glass Barn at the Indiana State Fair designed, built, paid for and staffed by the Indiana Soybean Alliance is a great example. Urban visitors who buy the food you produce will have the opportunity to learn what modern agriculture is like, and do it in a fun way.

However, some efforts various groups within the industry make find them fighting an uphill battle. Trying to rename the swine disease known commonly as 'swine flu' is an example. Just because ag groups want people to use a different term for the disease so it doesn't conjure up panic doesn't mean it will happen. (By the way, cases have been reported this summer and I haven't seen anybody panic … yet.)

Focus should be on education, not the name.
Focus should be on education, not the name.

I authored a few news stories a couple weeks ago about the cases of 'swine flu' documented at the time. One was at the Grant County fair, and one at the Hancock County fair. A person or persons actually got sick from picking up the disease after being around pigs in each case.

I quickly received a note from Denise Derrer, Communications Director for the Indiana Board of Animal Health, informing me the livestock industry prefers we don't refer to it as 'swine flu.' That would panic the public. So if you're a member of one of those groups and you don't like me using the term swine flu, don't blame Denise. She did her due diligence and politely informed me about it.

There's just a couple of problems with this scenario. My first question back to her was what do I call it? Her answer: Call in Influenza A (swine origin) H3N2.

Are you kidding? Let's see a show of hands. How many people this summer have heard a news clip about the disease at the county fairs or read an article where they referred to the disease as Influenza A or H3N2? Until I stand corrected because you let me know, I don't sense any hands going up.

Can you picture Debby Knox, anchor at WISH TV in Indianapolis talking about people at the fair getting sick with H3N2? It sounds like they contracted something out of Star Wars!

I would be happy to comply – if everybody else did. Everybody else isn't. Perhaps the ag media should set the example. But perhaps instead some perceive the farm media as a soft target, willing to do the bidding for ag groups and incapable of digging below the surface.

If so, they're mistaken. The people they need to be talking to are the people masses of people listen to, like Debby Knox and the news anchors in major urban centers around Indiana.

There's another point. Just because you don't like the connotation of a term people use doesn't mean you can stop them from using the term. It seems to me agriculture would be better served by an all-out education effort about what the disease is and what it isn't, rather than worrying about the name.

The truth is you're not going to get people on a wholesale basis to stop referring to it as swine flu and refer to it instead as H3N2. That doesn't mean they're going to stop buying pork at the meat case. By now it primarily means when they hear 'swine flu,' they think "Oh yes, when I go to fairs I shouldn't eat food in the barns and I should wash my kids hands once we leave the barns."

People are still coming through barns at fairs to see the animals. People are still eating pork.

A rose by any other name is still a rose. Swine flu by any other name is still swine flu. I suggest getting on with it and shaping public opinion by educating them about what are risks and what aren't risks, rather than getting hung up on the name.