Somehow, we all survived the Great Shark Scare, not to mention the panic that bird flu would kill us all in our sleep and that Grand Theft Auto video games would turn our kids into homicidal maniacs.
The point is that media likes to jump on topics and ride them for all they’re worth, so the exposure around the swine flu outbreak of 2009 and the hysteria that’s come with it shouldn’t be surprising. To be fair, though, when Mexico City essentially closes down and the World Health Organization goes on high alert, it’s hard not to go into news overdrive.
While the media has helped spread the “swine flu” misnomer, the media’s also done its share to correct some of the inaccuracies that have gone out about the flu. Industry associations and major players have made their case that pork products are safe to eat, and the initial fear started to dissipate among consumers. Their big mistake was trying to get media outlets to replace the name “swine flu” with “2009 H1N1 flu.” I don’t care if it’s scientifically accurate, it’s a terrible name for a virus. It’s too ungainly, it’s hard to type or say, it’s not at all broadcast friendly.
The next time hysteria starts to rear its head, be it swine flu or something else, the industry as a whole can take action. Packers and processors affected by a food scare can talk to their local newspapers, TV and radio stations. You are all experts in the industry and can help correct inaccuracies. As a member of the media, I can’t tell you how great it is to find someone who wants to talk about a given subject. Just remember to avoid using “industry speak.” Speak plainly to best state your case, and don’t be too wordy -- like it or not, we’re a soundbite society. Tell people that you served up some delicious pork chops or roast chicken to your family last night, and you did it knowing the food was completely safe. Every person you can send back to the meat case at the grocery store is a win for the industry.
Sam Gazdziak, Editor