USDA's Vilsack Calls on Media to Use H1N1, Not Swine Flu

September 9, 2009 07:00 PM

Pro Farmer Editors

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack implored members of the media today to "give serious consideration" to refrain from referring to the H1N1 flu virus as "swine flu."

"By mislabeling this, we're affecting populations around the worked and causing undue and undeserved harm, especially to pork producers," Vilsack said in one of two conference calls with the media USDA has scheduled today to talk about preparations for the coming flu season.

And Vilsack even pointed out specific media outlets he said were guilty of using the moniker "swine flu" when referring to the H1N1 virus, saying their actions make it difficult on the domestic and international front in particular where 38 countries have limited or halted imports of U.S. pork. When asked whether there was "concrete" evidence of a sales downturn due to H1N1, Vilsack didn't list off any specific figures, but rather pointed back to the media as a factor as institutional customers have been leery of U.S. pork due to the use of "swine flu" instead of H1N1.

On exports, he said, "I can talk to ambassadors (and other officials from the countries in question) but they turn on CNN or pick up (the New York) Times or Wall Street Journal, or the (Washington) Post and they see H1N1 referred to as swine flu, they think there is a problem and say 'therefore we're not going to do business,'" Vilsack said.

"We have a very depressed (hog) market and this (referring to the H1N1 as swine flu) does not help -- it's unfair and it's not right," Vilsack stressed. "Every time this is mislabeled and misrepresented, it makes it that much more difficult to climb out of these difficult times." He reminded those on the call that behind every pork producer are a host of other businesses that are negatively impacted, such as implement dealers, grocery stores and more.

The H1N1 flu that currently is circulating "is not the same as swine flu," Vilsack stressed. "It is different -- it is a novel strain."

Vilsack said USDA has taken the unusual step of making a seed virus available to five manufacturers of vaccines in the hope to cut the time to come up with a vaccine for the H1N1 virus. He expressed a hope this could save money and time in developing a vaccine. USDA's action could shave four to seven months off the time to develop a vaccine and could save hundreds of thousands of dollars than if the effort was left totally to the private sector.

Other highlights of this morning's call:

  • The mischaracterization of the H1N1 virus has negatively impacted U.S. pork exports, something USDA is trying to reverse.
  • USDA will make more purchases of pork for the school lunch and other food/feeding programs when the new fiscal year begins.

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