Expert opinion

2 commentslast update:Oct 20, 2009

Swine influenza worries

Little kids can be scared about anything, be it big green monsters or zombies under their beds or perhaps a dangerous unknown disease coming to get you...

Sometimes, as a child, when my head bounced with pain or when I was sweating under a pile of blankets, gloomy thoughts crossed my brain as to what kinds of cruel diseases could have struck me.

As far as I know, these diseases never really got hold of me. However, for some reason this Monday night I was reminded to this kind of indefinite feeling, when speaking to representatives from the international veterinary business, prior to a meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, around the launch of Intervet/Schering-Plough's PCV2 vaccine in Europe.

Talk of the evening
Swine influenza happened to be the talk of the evening. Everyone was chatting about it, all asked others for their opinion and updates for the latest news.

"How many human casualties officially confirmed? And where?"

"That infected man in Great Britain turned out to be suffering from something else, did you hear that? Oh? And what about the case in Israel?"

"Did you hear NPPC issued a press release saying pork is safe to eat?"

I sort of had expected, being amidst epidemiologists, veterinarians and animal health company employees, that the virus' avian and/or porcine origins of the disease might be the topic of some conversation.

News hype
It turned out not to be. It was the news hype around it that was the main subject of discussion. And what's worse – its consequences.

"At the airports, television crews were desperate to find travelers going to Mexico. They all wanted a quote!"

"I did only receive one single e-mail on this topic last Friday – and look what it has become now!"

"What will the outbreak mean for the World Pork Expo, in June?"

Parallels were made between this outbreak and the consequences of the avian influenza, about two years ago. In various countries poultry consumption plummeted after the news of avian flu broke.

I could understand why the discussions focused on the tone of the news. Just as the human virus seems to spread rather rapidly, so does the media hype.

Generally, most attendees agreed that pig production in itself has not much to fear apart from the disease most probably originating from swine and/or avian origins – and thus having the word 'swine' in its name.

However, when you come to think of it – if the disease turns out to be a pandemic one and will be here to stay for a while, the pig industry will be likely to suffer indirectly.

I can see them, future customers, standing in supermarkets, deciding what they'll have for dinner tonight… They don't know exactly why – just like the boy fearing a very dangerous unknown disease – but swine haven't been that flashy in the news lately.

"Hmmm… Maybe I'll have the fish tonight."

When first introducing the phrase 'swine influenza' for this specific strain, the specific scientist may have had his reasons to do so – but he forgot one thing: what about potential damage to the image of pork?

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    Henry Rosolowski

    My comment on this. I am really quite surprised that a person that is blogging for Pig Progress would be so hesitant in thinking positively and supporting the safety of pork products around the world. All people and organizations should understand the science and the reality of moving forward and not taking a 'media hype approach' just to have something to say. Wash your hands. Cough into your sleeve. Enjoy your meal.

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    Vincent ter Beek

    Dear Mr Rosolowski,

    Thank you for your comment. It wasn't my intention to sound hesitant in thinking positively - as the long term will be all right, I am sure of that. I think, however, it was a very fair comment as to a possible near future of pork consumption, based on earlier experiences with avian influenza. I cannot help that not all people and organisations base their opinions on other information than science and base decisions on these. Many industry experts do worry about these consequences of short-term damage into consideration - and that is what I wanted to write down.

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