For the past week or so, the world has been abuzz about the “swine flu” pandemic. With so much information out there about the virus, it is tough to determine what is fact and what is fiction. Due to the damning moniker, many uneducated about the virus believe that you can contract H1N1 (real name for swine flu) by consuming pork products. This has the pork industry in uproar, creating a daunting task ahead for the industry communication teams.
Because the name, the industry fears that consumers will avoid buying pork because they assume the infection can be traced back to meat. Industry members have been lobbying to change the virus’ name, and the efforts seem to be paying off.
According to this article on AdAge:
The sickness, named after its point of origin, is airborne and contracted by human-to-human contact. But some consumers hear the name and think they could get sick from eating pork, and it’s a real headache for the pork industry, which has seen other industries take hits from consumer confusion. For instance, the recent peanut recall affected sales of peanut butter, which was safe.
Government officials are making an effort to refer to the swine influenza virus as the H1N1 virus, which is the strain’s more forgettable, scientific name. Cindy Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Pork Board, noted that President Barack Obama and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have referred to the virus as H1N1. Ms. Cunningham said her agency is working to help consumers understand that pork is safe to eat, “and that it is not a swine virus; this is human-to-human transmission.”
It’s clear the misconception spreads far and wide. Some countries, including Russia and China, have restricted pork imports from the U.S. Such embargoes are unlikely to have real teeth, as the countries have restricted imports only from states where cases have been confirmed. The nation’s top pork-producing states — Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina — remain unaffected by the restrictions.
While it is too soon to tell how much damage the virus’ namesake has caused the pork industry, one thing is for sure: consumers need to be better educated about the facts. In an already volatile economy, industries can’t afford to get a bad rap, especially when there is no cause for concern. The National Pork Board is doing a pretty good job managing what could be a detrimental blow to their industry.
Posted by: Lauren