Media outlets around the globe have been in a frenzy spreading fear about the flu, now known as H1N1. Pandemic is the best way to describe it – and I’m not talking about the sickness, but the sensationalism surrounding the mutated virus. May I suggest a perspective check?

  • More than 500,000 people  around the world die annually from the common seasonal flu.
  • You cannot get this virus from pork or pigs, contrary to misperceptions formed around the original name, swine flu.  Get the facts.
  • The single American death came from a 23 month who was brought to the U.S. for medical care. Most people are recovering from it within a week’s time. It’s unfortunate that people have died, but don’t blow it out of proportion.

Should we all make an effort to wash our hands and take precautions?  Sure, but let’s not buy into the hand wringing about a flu that has hit out of season. “Be cautious, don’t overreact” as one physican stated. Viruses happen.  So do auto accidents, plane crashes and fires.  And, by the way, if you’re reading this and think the above picture is accurate, find a farmer to visit ASAP!

If people were a bit more connected to knowing where their food comes from, our society might not believe all of the hyperbole associated with these types of outbreaks.  Hogs of today are kept in a closed environment with strict biosecurity standards, which requires showering in and out of facilities.  If you want the perspective of having to disrobe to visit a hog barn, take a look at this humorous post from Iowa Farm Bureau.  

Of course, some are trying to point fingers at the larger farms, know as CAFOs (an example of  terminology that ag should have never agreed to!).  Look no further than http://www.grist.org/article/2009-04-25-swine-flu-smithfield/ for an example of finger pointing.  Can we again emphasize that humans can’t get this from hogs?  And I’m not here to promote one side of ag over the other, but the reality is that larger operations typically have to to adhere to stricter regulations.  You can read Smithfield’s response to the accusations here; their people are healthy, the hogs vaccinated and the proper protocol followed.  What more can we ask for?

The sad thing is how this is impacting pork farmers.  Take a look at their economics and you’ll find high input costs combined with low prices being paid for the finished product.  It’s simple economics.  If you’re complaining about vertical integration in the pork business, know that your low food prices have driven farms larger just so they can continue farming.  Farms, while caring deeply about their stewardship of land and animals, are businesses – and not just there to provide pretty scenery.   If you’re a farmer or rancher, PLEASE take this opportunity to tell your neighbors, family and community how you work to protect their health!

Isn’t it time we quit pandering to the latest media-driven paranoia?  Get in touch with where you food comes from and you might be surprised with how much more comfortable you are when people start freaking out and making claims about animal agriculture.  If you don’t know where to start, let me know and I’ll be glad to point you to people who can help.

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