Maybe you’ve heard this by now. Perhaps you’ve listened to the experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Homeland Security. They’ve all issued statements along these lines.
But in the face of what could become a global panic, the simple truth is worth repeating: You can’t catch the flu from eating pork.
Unfortunately, some people want to take advantage of public ignorance. As White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel once said in a different context: “Never allow a crisis to go to waste.”
The protectionists appear to know this rule inside and out. This week, China, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Serbia, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates have banned pork from the United States and Mexico. Russia has taken it even further, banning all meat.
This makes no sense. Or haven’t you heard? You can’t catch the flu from eating pork.
Obviously, bans on American pork have nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics. Anyone who believes otherwise suffers from “fool’s flu”, and the protectionists are happy to see this harmful virus spread into an epidemic of absurdity. Their agenda is to elevate the pleadings of special-interest groups–often domestic suppliers who can’t compete with American growers and workers–over the common good.
Now U.S. food producers will suffer a blow. Pork exports to China alone were worth nearly $270 million last year. This is excellent news not only for inefficient Chinese hog farmers, but also for our foreign competitors. Moreover, the expected decline in pork sales won’t merely hurt pig producers in Kansas and Texas. It will also injure corn and soybean growers who supply the feed for those hogs and the truck drivers who transport them and the list goes on. Less demand means smaller incomes.
Last month, the World Trade Organization released a report stating that world trade would decline by 9% in 2009 and global exports could drop another 8% if countries continue to enact protectionist measures.
In other words, these acts of protectionism function as a reverse-stimulus plan for rural America.
International law allows nations to build trade barriers on an emergency basis, if there’s a legitimate public-health threat. This is a wise practice. Thankfully, several key countries are not using it as an excuse to meddle with markets. Japan, for instance, consumes an enormous amount of U.S. pork, and its government says that there are no plans to restrict American products.
Much of the confusion about this new flu strain is semantic. Initially, people called it “swine flu” and the name stuck. Yet its victims aren’t contracting the virus from pigs. Transmission is human-to-human. The flu actually contains avian and human characteristics. We remain unsure of its precise origin. Calling it “swine flu” involves a bit of guesswork.
There is a tradition of naming flu strains after the region they come from; the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed millions, is sometimes called “Spanish flu.” Some have suggested calling this new strain “Mexican flu” or “North American flu.” The most accurate name probably would be “H1N1 flu,” in reference to a protein sequence. This is what officials in the Obama administration have started calling it.
In the end, the name is just a label. People everywhere need to understand the realities that lie beneath: Eating cooked pork and pork products is perfectly safe. Wash your hands, sanitize your cutting boards, and cover your face when you sneeze. These simple steps will go a long way toward preventing the disease.
But don’t expect calming rhetoric from the professional crisis exploiters. Protectionists in other countries aren’t the only ones who see the ingredients of political opportunity. In the United States, the enemies of Mexican trucking will use the flu as a new excuse to continue defying a NAFTA treaty requirement. Unions continue to fight negotiated free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. It’s time for leadership and the political will to approve those agreements or more “fools flu” will spread creating a pandemic economic influenza.
For now, at least, let’s keep the current challenge squarely in our sights and remember: You can’t catch the flu from eating pork.
Tim Burrack raises corn and soybeans in partnership with his brother on their NE Iowa family farm. Tim is a Board Member of Truth About Trade and Technology