While swine flu as a public health issue is starting to fade from the headlines (its true status as a public health issue is another matter), the problems for the pork industry might just be starting. The industry wasn’t well to begin with, and for some of its members, swine flu could be a terminal event, just as with people. Hog prices were very low even before the outbreak and hog futures have declined another 20% since then. This is on top of increased costs related to feed (70% of the cost of production). Even if people can’t get sick from eating pork, pigs are getting sick from being around people. The recent case of the human disease being spread to pigs in Canada could create additional problems of import bans in other countries.
Then there’s the name, swine flu:
“Unfortunately with the association with the name originally, it cast these questions about the industry that created a lot of nervousness with people trying to figure out what the situation is,” said Neil Dierks, Chief Executive Officer, National Pork Producers Council.
“We are striving to the get the message out to everybody that it’s a safe and good, nutritious and healthy product.” (Russell Blinch, Reuters)
Yeah, well good luck with that. The National Pork COuncil and the powerful farm lobby has managed to get the name of the virus changed from “swine flu” to “H1N1/2009,” but it’s not just the name of their product that’s a problem but the whole food industry. From salmonella in peanut butter to E. coli in fast foods and produce, the public has become increasingly uneasy about the safety of the entire food industry. If it were only the name swine flu, they’d probably recover relatively quickly. But it’s more than that.
Pork agribusiness giants like Smithfield Farms and Tyson have a lot to answer for besides having their product’s name being attached to a human pathogen. They are part of a politically powerful industry that has operated cynically, recklessly, without regard for the safety of consumers and their own their workers, or the environmental consequences of their industrial scale animal factories.
You can take the “swine” out of the name of the virus, but you can’t take the swine out of the Boards of Directors.