Pigs are a host for the H1N1 virus, and yet while no pigs died directly because of the virus, it was called “swine flu” and the news story became focused on food safety. It sprung a lot of attention onto concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) as if the food supply is not safe anymore because of H1N1. Like what happened with BSE, people quickly moved to the worst-case scenario and not the story closer to reality. In reality, these are animal health issues and not food safety issues based on the good detection work of CFIA. BSE and H1N1 are not CAFO issues either. If you fed contaminated feed to your free-range cows, they would be just as susceptible to BSE as the cow in the feedlot.
One of the first nights that the H1N1 was tagged as swine flu, news services around Canada led with stories questioning “is pork safe?” and “pork may not be safe on your fork.” These did not bring the most positive thoughts to the consumer’s mind. Why do we not turn to experts such as University of Guelph scientist Cate Dewey? In a simple YouTube video, Dewey talks about how it is completely scientifically impossible to contract H1N1 from eating pork. H1N1 is a respiratory disease and would not transfer in the bloodstream. If the media had run that interview as the lead story nationwide for two weeks instead of negative type stories, food safety would have not be a concern with H1N1. This is just another example of positive news not attracting viewers or selling ad space for the television network.
When CFIA does find issues like the mid-May detection of another BSE dairy cow, certain segments of people like to use this as fodder for comments like, “Look I told you our food is not safe.” Instead, the reasonable person would say, “I am glad that we have these inspection measures in place because it keeps our food system safe.”
Would it better that CFIA did not check for anything? Does “ignorance is bliss” apply to food safety? Food safety is not the place for ignorance.
Everyone needs to be responsible to the system as it applies to food safety information. Here’s how:
The media needs to report the real story and not sensationalize potential food safety events. Talking to Cate Dewey and other food safety and animal health experts would have provided much more accurate information to consumers concerned about H1N1 and that pork was safe.
Consumers need to be willing to pay at the store level for food safety programs. Buying local or organic is not investing in food safety programs as a consumer.
Primary producers need to participate in traceability programs.
As producers, we also need to be more vocal about the things we do on our farms to ensure food safety. Farmers are too quiet and tend not to defend themselves when events like H1N1 transpire. H1N1 is just an example of where agriculture was under attack from special interest groups, the mainstream media and consumers. As agriculturalists, we need to be more vocal in defending our farm production practices as they relate to food safety. If we don’t become more active, the radicals who claim CAFOs are to blame for BSE and H1N1 will win in the court of public opinion. That is the most undesirable result.
Shaun Haney publishes the Haney Farms Quarterly and his blog, which can be found at www.realagriculture.com.Haney Farms is located in Picture Butte, Alta., and is involved in the grain, seed and beef business. You can contact Shaun at 1-877-738-4517 or [email protected]