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Tri-national delegates call for halt to “swine flu”

Regional government delegates from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are calling for an end to the use of the term “swine flu” to describe the pandemic H1N1 influenza virus.

Delegates from the three countries signed a joint statement to that effect during the Tri-National Agricultural Accord, an annual invitation-only gathering of Canadian, U.S. and Mexican secretaries, ministers, commissioners and directors of state and provincial departments of agriculture.

This year’s accord meeting was held Aug. 11-14 at Gimli, Man., about 80 km north of Winnipeg.

“The media practice of identifying new or existing diseases of public health concern with technically incorrect names has resulted in confusion among consumers, market and trade disruptions and significant losses to the agricultural industry,” with “swine flu” being the most recent example, the delegates said in their statement.

“As we prepare for the distribution upon availability of the H1N1 vaccine in advance of an expected resurgence of the virus, academics, public health officials and the media need to refrain from the continued mischaracterization of the disease,” they wrote.

“Agricultural officials from the three North American countries urge these professionals to use noninflammatory scientific terminology in naming diseases to reduce unnecessary negative consequences and trade disruptions now and in the future.”

Health officials have “repeatedly documented and affirmed” that pork is safe to eat, the delegates wrote. The three signing delegates included host Agriculture Minister Rosann Wowchuk, Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson and Secretary Joel Ávila Aguilar of Baja California Sur.

Continued use of “swine flu” to describe the H1N1 virus “contributes to a distorted perception of pork as a source of the disease and perpetuates an unwarranted and avoidable economic calamity for many pork producers, processors and distributors.”

The delegates “respectfully request an immediate call to action to the academic, public health and media professionals to stop the unjustified historic practice of colloquially naming a disease after geographic locations or animals without regard to the consequences of this action.”

The world, they wrote, “has changed dramatically since this practice began. Stigmas are impossible to overcome, are often unwarranted and serve no purpose.”

A number of major news organizations, including CNN in the U.S., Britain’s BBC and Canada’s CBC, still describe the virus as “swine flu” on first reference.

Wowchuk’s Saskatchewan counterpart, Bob Bjornerud, hailed the Tri-National Accord’s statement in a separate release Wednesday.

“I know pork producers across Saskatchewan have been hit hard by this latest adversity, in addition to the challenges they were already facing,” Bjornerud said.

“I hope this joint statement will help to remind people that there are implications to everything we say and do, so we need to be diligent when we refer to the H1N1 influenza virus.”

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