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Pork Pushers Demand Name Change for Swine Flu

Funny. I don’t remember chicken farmers whining over avian flu being called avian flu. You’d think pork producers would be just as tough. Yet here they are, squealing like stuck pigs:

That’s right, people. It’s not just Obama refusing to call SWINE Flu by its real name – namely, SWINE Flu – but on The Takeaway this morning I actually heard the airheads transition from saying SWINE Flu to calling it the H18237FN10DSND027E – HIke! virus or something. And they even admitted they were doing that because the oh-so-tenderized sensibilities of the men who control the meat industry believe that calling SWINE Flu “SWINE Flu” is bad for business.

Fine. So what if it is? As Tristero so graphically points out, industrial pig farms are breeding grounds for disease and environmental disaster. Perfect places to breed a deadly flu virus. Call a spade a spade.

Of course, there’s more to it than that:

Several commenters have objected to my refusal to accede to the wishes of corporate pork production and euphemize swine flu by calling it something else. Their argument is that calling swine flu “swine flu” harms small, independent pork producers. Farm Girl, who has studied food issues closely and certainly cares deeply about small, independent farming, agrees with me:
…Mexico’s swine flu (and keep calling it that, no matter what the National Pork Producers say…)

In responding to the objections, I also posted several links to scientists’ discussion of swine flu that make the point that the term is accurate (go here, here, and here, for example. ) In comments to my previous post, Glen Tomkins writes:

Long-established practice in the field is to characterize strains of Influenza A first and foremost by which species it attacks. Thus we have avian (or bird) flu, swine flu, horse flu, dog flu and human flu.

There are other ways to characterize a given strain, such as by which type of the two antigenic glycoproteins it displays, and by this scheme, this swine flu is H1N1, and the avian flu of recent concern is H5N1.

But characterization by the animal of origin is the more basic and informative classification, and the HxNx name should be used as the primary name only if we’re talking about a strain of human flu. The animal vs human flu distinction is the most basic and informative because strains of flu adapted to animals other than humans tend to behave very differently in humans than strains adapted to us. The animal strains tend to cause more severe illness and death, because of some combination of our not being well-adapted to them, and their being not well-adapted to us. A microbe that uses us as its meal plan does not want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,and tends to do so only insofar as it hasn’t “learned” any better by long practice at adapting to us. But these animal strains also tend to not spread as readily among humans, presumably because that trick, much like not killing us, also requires adaptation to our peculiarities.

So it’s “swine flu”, not because we have it in for the porciculturists among us, or even because “swine flu” is a sexier phrase for CNN to use than “H1N1 flu”, but because that’s the way the nomenclature works, and works most effectively to convey important differences in expected disease behavior that calling it “H1N1″ would fail to convey.

Exactly.

It strikes me as exceedingly weird to insist that we describe the agent of a potential pandemic with a pretentious, and less accurate, euphemism. To do so at the insistence of powerful corporations because it might hurt their profits is simply outrageous.

I’m with Tristero. Fuck the pork producers’ feelings. And no, they can’t shelter themselves behind the small farmers they push out of business. Don’t let them try it.

And now for something completely different:

Comments

  1. says

    Sorry Dana, you are wrong on this one. It is NOT swine flu- H1N1 is a human flu.Bad science like this is what is causing the slaughter of thousands of pigs in Egypt, even though WHO say there is NO risk, and the banning of US, Canadian and Mexican pigs, even though, again, WHO say there is no danger.Avian flu jumped the species, and the worry was it would become Human-Human infectious, but still the look out was on migrating birds, in case this species jump became world wide. Pigs don’t migrate. When they are moved it can be regulated and checked. Geese onthe other hand don’t use customs. There are lots of scientists saying ‘swine flu’ is misleading.

  2. says

    Sorry to be so ignorant, but why do they have pigs in Egypt? Not many people there are allowed to eat pork products.These viruses have so many different components that come from hosts of different species that I just look at “swine flu” as a name given to this one for historical reasons.