With Eye on Industry, Ag Secretary Stops Calling Outbreak 'Swine Flu'
By Spencer S. Hsu
U.S. officials were on message today: It's no longer "swine flu" that Mexican and global health authorities are fighting, but the "2009 H1N1 virus outbreak."
"This really isn't swine flu. It's H1N1 virus," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at an afternoon news briefing with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
"We want to say to consumers here and abroad that there is no risk to you, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that there is any link between consuming pork, prepared pork products, and the H1N1 virus," Kirk added.
Lest the point be lost, Napolitano threw in, "We are establishing an operations coordination task force to deal with the 2009 H1N1 outbreak."
The switch was anything but casual. International prices of U.S. pork, corn and soybeans plummeted yesterday after Russia, China and the Philippines suspended pork imports from Mexico and some U.S. states where the virus has been detected, despite the absence of any link between pork consumption and the virus.
Obama administration officials praised allies such as Japan, which has noted the outbreak is not a food-borne illness, while threatening that other countries could see damaging economic consequences from banning or talking down the importation of U.S. pork products.
"We want to make sure that a handful of our trading partners don't take advantage of this legitimate concern over public health and engage in behavior that could also damage the world's economy," Kirk said, adding that the global downturn has already suppressed trade and raised protectionist sentiments. "Any actions -- activity engaged by any of our trading partners not based on sound science and not based on our rules-based systems of governing could do extraordinary damage, not just to our economy but to those of other countries as well."
Vilsack said the change came after Obama officials heard protests from the meat and grain industries. "It is significant, because there are a lot of hardworking families whose livelihood depends on us conveying this message of safety," said Vilsack, " ... and we want to reinforce the fact that we're doing everything we possibly can to make sure that our hog industry is sound and safe and to make sure that consumers in this country and around the world know that American products are safe."
Posted at 5:11 PM ET on Apr 28, 2009
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