Officials with the leading U.S. and world health organizations continue to stress that the 2009 H1N1 flu, commonly referred to as swine flu, that has been detected in humans is not an animal health or food safety issue.
“Farmers understand that the public is concerned about this flu,” said Stuart Exley, Effingham County Farm Bureau president. “The public should understand, however, that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the World Health Organization have made it clear that you cannot get the H1N1 flu from eating pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork is safe.”
The CDC says this flu virus is a mix of pig, human and bird viruses. This particular virus was initially called swine flu because the underlying virus contains genetic material from swine. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) says that to date this particular virus has not been isolated in pigs. Scientists classify flu viruses based on their two surface proteins. There are 16 varieties of hemagluttinin, the H in a flu’s name, and nine varieties of neuraminidase, the N component.
Information distributed via the Internet and social media networks has speculated that the virus may have originated from pigs because the first reported case of H1N1 was in the town of La Gloria, Mexico, near pig farms owned by the Smithfield Foods, Inc. Both the Mexican government and Smithfield Foods have stated they have found no evidence of any swine flu strain or the H1N1 strain at Smithfield hog operations in Mexico. Smithfield continues to monitor its hogs for the virus.
“Preliminary investigations have determined none of the U.S. citizens infected with this flu virus had contact with swine. The U.S. pork industry is making every effort to ensure that the U.S. pork supply is safe and continues to monitor U.S. swine for disease symptoms,” said Exley.
Safety precautions hog producers take to protect their herds include restricting visitors to their operations, not wearing “off-farm” clothing near their pigs and separating pigs that come from multiple sites.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has stated there is no evidence U.S. swine have been infected with this virus and there is no scientific basis for other countries to stop importing pork products from the U.S. Vilsack said any trade restrictions implemented by other countries due to the H1N1 flu are inconsistent with OIE guidelines.
The OIE, which handles veterinary issues around the world, says that the new virus should more appropriately be called North American influenza in keeping with a long standing medical tradition of naming flu pandemics for the regions where they were first identified.
The Effingham County Farm Bureau was established in 1957. It is affiliated with the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation headquartered in Macon. Founded in 1937, Georgia Farm Bureau is the state’s largest general farm organization. Its volunteer members actively participate in local, district and state activities that promote agriculture awareness.