Barbara Young

Listening to an argument between my grandchildren made me realize how confused consumers must be concerning the latest news prompting them yet again to question the safety of the meat in their refrigerators and freezers.

At issue is the current swine flu epidemic sweeping across the world. This is what my grandchildren know: swine flu comes from pigs. Although my grandson assured his sisters that pork is safe to eat as long as it cooked well, the girls vowed not to eat any pork and would make sure their dad cleared all of it out of the refrigerator “until the pigs get well.”

I kid you not (I don’t mean a young goat).

Given that I know something about the matter, I endeavored to set them straight. My success is uncertain given the misleading TV coverage focusing on the word swine, which even my grandchildren know, is another noun for pig.

The crux of the matter is, as somebody else in eloquence put it, a good name, like good will, is developed by many actions and quickly lost by only one. In this case, the pig is irrationally under attack given that science confirms that swine influenza is not transmitted by consuming pork. Like viral disease in general — a respiratory ailment — you get it by sucking infected air into your system.

To be sure, the pork industry has endured its share of blame for everything from pollution, trichinosis, contributing to obesity and, yes, even swine flu. Although ignorance is a sad state of bliss, the truth too often fails to liberate as has been promised by the wisdom of others.

Granted, information in a free society is an invaluable resource. The question is how should that information be presented for public consumption? Well, we all know there are inadequate controls and little self policing, especially in this age of Internet freedom, when anybody can be a reporter. Sensational headlines such as “Hog Wild” miss the mark as a teaser to ensuing content. The difference is using the power of the media to inform rather than to cause unbridled panic.

Allow me another grandchild anecdote. My 8-year-old granddaughter and I were dining at Wendy’s, where a flat-screen TV was spewing out “news” reports on swine flu. Finally, my granddaughter asked to move to another table because “that stuff is scary.” I was taught to be a responsible journalist, which I consider to be a sacred trust. Now I know we journalists also have a duty not to sugar-coat the truth, but come on. There is a way to draw a reasonable line to separate sensationalism from truthful reporting.

And, finally, a message to the pork industry: It is a fact that hogs are susceptible to a broad range of diseases — perhaps more than any other domestic animal. Experts have identified respiratory and parasitic ailments as major problems in view of limited exercise and lack of sunlight. Based on reported estimates, 65 percent to 85 percent of U.S. herds are exposed to swine pneumonia viruses that are basically treated with drugs. Given that animal disease could destroy the industry’s economic viability, perhaps change is in order. Indoor exercise equipment won’t work, but there must be some way to add exercise and sunlight to the life of pork herds.

Think about it.