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3 May 2009 - Keep Things in Perspective

Once again, America’s food producers have received another harsh reminder of how vulnerable they are to events that are totally out of their control; events that determine the future of their industry and certainly their financial well being. I’m talking about what I consider the over-blown media coverage of the H1N1 flu virus. That is the correct name, but around the world it quickly became known as “swine flu”, and what a negative impact that has had on the pork industry.

Agriculture has a decade of lessons on events being blown out of perspective by ignorant people in media. At the beginning of the decade cattle producers were slammed by media coverage of “mad cow” disease; the middle of the decade it was the turn of the poultry producer, and the exaggerated coverage of “avian bird flu”; and now, pork producers, it’s your turn with “H1N1” and the extensive coverage it has received around the world.

Despite continued assurances from medical doctors and agricultural media that you do not get “swine flu” from eating pork, consumption has declined. Futures prices moved limit down at the Mercantile Exchange; cash hog prices dropped $7-8 dollars per hundredweight the first week, hurting pork producers at a time when they were already suffering from prices below the cost of production. Beyond that, major importing countries of U.S. pork, China and Russia shut the door on pork imports from North America, knowing full well that H1N1 is not spread by consuming pork and their action violates world trade rules.

I tip my hat to the European Union for taking quick positive action; expressing concern for the European pork producers the EU Health Commissioner said on the second day “not to have a negative effect on our industry, we decided to call it “novel” flu, not swine flu from now on”.

Why do I think this is another non-story getting far more attention than it deserves? Every year 35,000 people in America die of influenza and we don’t interrupt programs with “breaking news” to announce those deaths.

Finally, some history; let’s go back to 2005 and the bird flu story. In my files I found an Associated Press story quoting a United Nations health official who said “bird flu could kill 150-million people on the planet” and countries around the world spent billions of dollars to prepare for the pandemic. I checked World Health Organization records and found that, as of April 23rd this year, on the planet, 257 people have died of bird flu, hardly a pandemic. Let’s work to keep these stories in perspective, so we don’t kill another agricultural industry.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.