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With jobs and industry at stake, pork-producing states like Minnesota work to correct ‘swine flu’ misinformation


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Producers of consumer goods in the United States spend serious cash every year to advertise their products in just the right way — strategic ad placements, unique font types and catchy commercial jingles.

And, so, it must have been with something like horror that pork producers in Minnesota and around the United States woke up last weekend to headlines of a pending “swine flu” pandemic.

“The biggest thing is to give an accurate message to consumers — there is no threat to food safety with this virus,” said David Preisler, executive director of the Minnesota Pork Producers.

By Wednesday, the market for pigs had dropped by 15 percent — the steepest plunge in Preisler’s memory. Russia and China have now refused to accept pork exports from certain U.S. states.

So, while scientists and medical professionals around the country have been bulking up their antiviral arsenals, Preisler and his pork-producing ilk have been waging a different, but equally frantic, battle over branding.

 “The message has to be very clear that people do not get this from eating pork. That is not how this is transmitted,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on Tuesday. “These countries that are closing their borders to our pork, it is not just an overreaction; it is just plain bad science.”

In response to concerns, President Obama and the secretary of agriculture on Wednesday began calling the new virus the 2009 H1N1 flu virus.

Meanwhile, other groups are still going with the “swine flu” label, most notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Indeed, people cannot contract the H1N1 virus from eating pork.  And, there is no evidence, so far, that people who are now becoming sick were even in contact with pigs. The new flu is a combination of human, swine, and bird influenza viruses. Plus, it is still unclear how susceptible pigs are to it.

These important details, of course, are of no small significance to Minnesota, which ranks behind only Iowa in the number of pigs and the dollars generated through pork production.
Pork and corn are consistently the top two agricultural enterprises in the state, according to Preisler. The pork industry helps support roughly 22,500 jobs in Minnesota alone.