It’s not swine flu; it’s ‘North American Influenza’ says the New Zealand Pork Industry Board as it sets out to defend its pigs against viruses and negative publicity alike.
The pork industry is worth an estimated $1 billion to the New Zealand economy and its leaders are worried that media-fed misinformation about influenza A (H1N1) could prove as deadly to the industry as the virus itself.
To quell any possible consumer backlash arising from flu fear NZ Pork has issued a statement extolling the safety of New Zealand-raised pork.
It says that it is now widely recognised that it is not correct to call the current disease ‘swine influenza’ because “this is a different virus to the one that causes swine flu in pigs overseas”.
The disease is ‘North American Influenza’ according to NZ Pork, which reminds us “there has never been a case of swine influenza in pigs in New Zealand”.
There is no evidence to date that pigs have been infected, or could be infected, by this mutated virus, it says, assuring consumers that “you cannot get the virus causing the current human outbreak from eating pork or pork products that are properly cooked”.
NZ Pork has three main reasons to be worried by the outbreak of the illness formerly known as swine flu.
The immediate threat comes in the form of trade barriers as countries use the influenza outbreak as an excuse for good old-fashioned protectionism.
New Zealand Pork Industry Board chief executive Sam McIvor says that while this country’s pork exports total only $5 million, protectionism would still be very damaging to these producers: “there is no justification for stopping of any trade”.
But in the much bigger domestic market there are two specific concerns for the pork industry.
The first, Mr McIvor says, is about consumption, hence NZ Pork’s attempt at a “re-brand” of this particular strain of influenza.
“People tend to get their information in sound bytes. We want to make it absolutely clear that we don’t have swine flu in New Zealand, that this flu has no connection with pigs, and that our pork is safe to eat.”
The second issue of major concern to the local market is biosecurity, which Mr McIvor says pig farmers have to be “extra vigilant” about.
Of concern is whether the virus could mutate and potentially be transferred from humans to pigs; “there have been examples in the past of human diseases being passed on to animals,” he says.
New Zealand has the best pig health in the world according to an assessment by an independent vet but ironically, the thing that makes New Zealand pork so healthy is also what makes our pigs so vulnerable to a swine flu outbreak.
“New Zealand is quite unique in that it has the highest percentage of outdoor-bred pigs in the world.
“Unfortunately that also makes us more susceptible to viruses that are carried through the air and makes it harder to isolate affected pigs and farms when there is an outbreak.”