Pigs never get a fair shake. No matter how you slice it, they’re typically associated with mud, and get the brunt of most jokes. And, today, once again, they’re in desperate need of more lipstick.
Although the current swine flu is transmitted between people, has nothing to do with “swine,” and pork is entirely safe to eat (assuming, as always, you cook it), pigs are getting hammered by the press. The media coverage has been so anti-pig that many countries no longer import pork. The World Health Organization has raised the alert level for swine flu, and Egypt (usually not swayed by extremist views) just announced it’s about to kill every pig within its borders. Thus, after enduring days of eviscerating (no pun intended) media coverage, between 300,000 to 400,000 innocent cob rollers could easily lose their lives.
Not a good week for pigs . . .
This also can’t be (and isn’t) good for the U.S. pork industry. As we all know, the epicenter of the flu outbreak was Mexico. We initially thought (correctly) that people were getting sick from other people. Things went really south for pigs, however, when false rumors suggested the flu originated in a Smithfield Foods Mexican pork plant. After Associated Press ran the story (oops), countless Bloggers (not us) attempted to blame the outbreak on "factory farming.” The only “fabrication” relating to flu, however, was the story itself.
We soon verified that the virus was NOT connected to Smithfield, its operations or . . . its pigs. Rather, as reported previously, the illness morphed from a hybrid of hog and avian flu strains (or, the hybrid A/H1N1 flu strain), which resides in people—not swine.
Thus, as industry attempted to set the record straight, even the Obama Administration chimed in. Officials announced repeatedly that pork products were “perfectly safe.” "I want to reiterate,” pleaded Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “this is NOT an animal health or food safety issue.”
Why, then, are people so hoggish about swine? Well, that’s easy. Not long ago, some doctor, in some lab, and in some report, thought it would be clever to name this new “hybrid” illness “swine flu.” And, it stuck. In turn, media and bloggers alike (we’re guilty too) scoured “Google Images” to find the best pig photo to hammer the message home. The cool images stuck too.
So, how to fix it? Well, I’m sure it sounded like quite the challenge when the first courageous employee (in some swanky board room) asked quietly whether it might be possible to simply, well . . . “change the name.” A raised eyebrow, we’re certain, likely followed by a long pause…
But, that idea stuck too. And, although (admittedly) this is a big ship to turn, industry groups mobilized and are now asking (whoever will listen) to change the name from “swine flu” to something a bit more subtle.
So, what are the current proposals? The two top runners are “North American Flu” and “Hybrid Flu.” Although either sound simple enough, things are never that easy. One need only infuse politics to know that neither idea will likely sell.
Indeed, we anticipate that, when the opportunity comes, “conservatives” will likely argue that any reference to “North American Flu” is merely another attempt by “liberals” to blame the world’s most significant problems on the U.S. In response, liberals will likely retort that the use of “Hybrid Flu” is simply yet another conservative ploy to tarnish alternative fuels and green technology.
Not sure who wins the debate (in the end), but it is sure to come.
Thus, perhaps, we could find middle ground. To the extent the current virus involves a unique and daring blend of both swine and avian flu, maybe something more tasteful, like “Swavian Influenza,” would be easiest to swallow. It sounds exotic, it rolls nicely off the tongue, and (the best part) it’s politically neutral.
If that doesn't work, a respected friend, with a smirk, suggested "A-1 Influenza" or, even better, "ACME INFLUENZA" (my favorite). Move aside, Wile E. Coyote... And, worst case, we can always do A/H1N1 flu... Boring, but acceptable.
So, will any of the proposals work?
Maybe. But, in my mind, only two things are certain. Again, no matter how we slice it, hogs are always the first to get dragged through the mud. And, second, no matter how much lipstick we use, a pig is still (and always will be) a pig.