Funny Business with Jane Wells

The "S" Word Is a Real Pig For Farmers


Hog farmers have had it.

As if the global recession wasn't bad enough for business—farmers are still losing on average $25 a hog as they continue to thin herds to meet diminished demand.

But piling on is everyone who still calls the H1N1 virus "swine flu".

Like us.

The latest slap comes from New York Magazine, which has a cover story this week showing a pig in a hospital bed called "The 0.5 Pandemic".

Cute pig. The photo even includes a unique credit: "Animal makeup by Hagen Linss". ("Hey, Hagen, what do you do for a living?" "I put lipstick on a pig.")

"We appreciate humor as much as anyone else," says Chris Novak, CEO of the National Pork Board. However, he says 8 to 9 percent of consumers "still believe that you get H1N1 from eating or handling pork." Wrong. He says that while the situation has improved from last spring, when pork sales collapsed and China and Russia imposed some bans, there's still a lot of consumer confusion. He says use of what he refers to as "the 'S' word" is still having an impact on sales.

I suggested that maybe the cute pig in the magazine photo might make people more aware of H1N1, and lead them to take precautions against getting sick. "If this story does help motivate consumers to take action, that's a positive," Novak says, "we simply want them to not walk away with the wrong impression."

Novak knows he's fighting a losing battle. Last spring the industry launched a national print campaign to calm fears about pork when H1N1 first made news. Now, however, producers figure it's better to focus on positive messages—pitching pork as a good value—rather than drawing too much attention to the flu. They might look like they're protesting a little too much. Still, "Every story that repeats the misnomer is frustrating," Novak says. On occasion, he's even stopped strangers overheard saying "the 's' word" in public. "I work for the pork producers," he'll say to them. "We don't use that term."

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