Pork Producers Respond to Flu Outbreak

Buckeye Farm Beat

The Ohio Pork Producers Council is scrambling to help Ohio consumers understand that eating pork has no connection to transmission of the flu virus.

Published on: May 1, 2009

The Ohio Pork Producers Council is reporting that more than 25 different media outlets have contacted them this week regarding the outbreak of H1N1 flu.


“OPPC representatives and Ohio pork producers have participated in a variety of media interviews in the last week, including more than 10 different television stations, newspapers and radio stations,” says Stephanie Stute, speaking on the organization’s behalf. “OPPC has released media statements ensuring consumers that pork is safe to eat and expressed that there is no link between the flu virus and animals in the United States.”


I heard Dick Isler, the group’s executive vice president, on the radio early in the week urging that the sickness be referred to as “North American flu,” rather than “swine flu.”


"It was labeled swine flu because of a virus that actually occurred in 1918, where both pigs and people apparently, back then, got sick," Isler said in the interview.


The notion was backed by comments from Tom Vilsack, secretary of USDA, and later in the week the World Health Organization chimed in that H1N1 flu would be most appropriate because that’s the name of the virus carrying it.


Hopefully that will be picked up by the international media. Whether or not it will help consumers better understand that eating pork has no connection to getting the disease remains to be seen. Misguided actions by Egyptian officials to slaughter hogs in response to the outbreak demonstrate how easily a panic can begin.

Hats off to Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Columbus, who has written to the Russian ambassador urging that country to lift its ban of pork products. Rep. Tiberi reportedly explained to Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak that the decision was ill founded and not based on any actual health threat.

"All reported cases of H1N1 virus have been spread person to person," Tiberi said. "In addition, there are no reported cases of this H1N1 virus strain occurring in live pigs in the United States."

"In the absence of scientific evidence to demonstrate any risk to human or animal health, there is no standing for a ban on meat produced in the state of Ohio related to concern about swine influenza A (H1N1)," Tiberi wrote in urging the ban be lifted.

Meanwhile, Doug Dawson, who raises 10,000 sows near
Delaware told WOSU, the public radio station that falling prices for pigs could already cost him big time.

"Our price per pound has already dropped about six cents per pound,
Dawson said. “I truly think that this instance with the market price the way it's dropped, it will cost me a quarter of a million dollars to recover. And that's if it doesn't get worse than it is today. The damage has already been done. It just depends on how long it takes to recover."

Dawson tried to explain the degree of cleanliness that goes into raising pigs.

"We shower-in before we come into the unit in the morning so that we're not carrying anything in," he said. "We're very conscientious when we move pigs about cleaning trucks and cleaning boots and the trailer's cleaned out and disinfected and we go to great lengths to keep these hogs healthy and to make sure it's a safe product for people to consume."

Dawson says a veterinarian conducts inspections at least four times a year - more often if needed. Blood and tissue samples are taken when an animal is suspected of being ill.

"It's a lot easier to keep an animal healthy than it is to treat them after they get sick,"
Dawson said.

The OPPC is taking another step towards educating the public by linking with Columbus WTVN radio to demonstrate that pork is safe to eat. WTVN has invited OPPC to come to the radio station parking lot this coming Monday, May 4th from 4- 5 p.m. to handout 250 pork loin sandwiches to people that drive into the lot.

“OPPC will have a chance to visit with station host John Corby on the radio about pork’s safety and great taste,” Stute says. “
Corby is already promoting it on his show as “the same great pork they get at the Ohio State Fair”.