The spread of the H1N1 flu virus took a different twist this week when U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors determined that three hogs displayed at this summer's Minnesota State Fair may have contracted the virus. Later, USDA confirmed at least one of the hogs with H1N1 - the first known case of a possible transfer of the virus from human to pig.
The H1N1 virus, misnamed the swine flu, has already devastated Minnesota's (and the nation's) pork industry as people believed a connection between hogs and the flu and that they may contract it. There is no connection, however, other than it seems hogs may now catch the basically human disease.
While not a large Beltrami County commodity, Minnesota ranks third among states in pork production, generating a total of $4 billion in economic activity and supporting more than 55,000 jobs.
USDA, in announcing the H1N1-positive Minnesota State Fair hog, reiterated strongly that pork products are completely safe to consume, and attempted to ally fears among our trading partners.
"We have fully engaged our trading partners to remind them that several international organizations, including the World Organization for Animal Health, have advised that there is no scientific basis to restrict trade in pork and pork products," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "People cannot get this flu from eating pork or pork products. Pork is safe to eat."
The infection of the fair pig does not suggest infection of commercial herds because show pigs and commercially raised pigs are in separate segments of the swine industry that do not typically interchange personnel or animal stock, USDA adds.
The National Pork Producers Council notes that "pigs, like people, sometimes get sick or contract influenza viruses and recover. Indeed, pigs in several other countries previously have contracted the novel H1N1 flu. ... the National Pork Producers Council reiterates that pork is safe to eat and handle and that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu viruses cannot be transmitted through food, including pork."
We want to do the utmost to protect our food supply, and we have had serious outbreaks in recent times of contaminated food. But the experts agree that the "swine flu" is an incorrect indictment of the pork industry, and that the properly named H1N1 virus does not affect pork and pork products.
As a major Minnesota industry, pork remains a safe food to place on our family table. At the same time, we cannot let up our guard in personal hygiene to prevent the person-to-person transmittal of H1N1.