US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose department has the conflicting dual roles of promoting and regulating the industry, said Tuesday: “there are a lot of hardworking families whose livelihood depends on us conveying this message of safety...and we want to reinforce the fact that we’re doing everything we possibly can to make sure that our hog industry is sound and safe and to make sure that consumers in this country and around the world know that American products are safe.”
Vilsack and his department now calls swine flu “H1N1 flu virus.”
It’s a common practice to name flu viruses after the species they are first discovered in. In the case of today’s swine flu, it was first found in domesticated pigs. As of tonight both the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization continue to use the term “swine flu.”
The high level of attention to this virus is due to the belief by health officials that most people have no immunity to it, and the concern that it may behave like the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed an estimated 20 to 100 million people worldwide. We are overdue for a serious pandemic, they believe. Though some infectious disease experts claim the current swine flu resembles typical seasonal flu in its effects, and that its seriousness is being overstated.
Vilsack is correct in his assertion that consumers can’t contract swine flu from eating pig flesh, but he’s ignoring the larger picture. Continuing to consume animal products—as Vilsack would have us do—will only result in the perpetuation of the animal agriculture industry, which is where these kinds of viruses originate and incubate.
Rather than simply taking precautions like frequent hand washing, covering our coughs, and avoiding close contact with infected people to avoid contracting and transmitting the current swine flu, being truly proactive means reducing the likelihood of future pandemics by not eating animal products.