WASHINGTON What's in a name? U.S. pork producers are finding that the name of the virus spreading from Mexico is affecting their business, prompting U.S. officials to argue for changing the name from swine flu.
At a news briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack took pains to repeatedly refer to the flu as the "H1N1 virus."
"This is not a food-borne illness, virus. It is not correct to refer to it as swine flu because really that's not what this is about," Vilsack said.
Israel has already rejected the name swine flu, and opted to call it "Mexico flu." Jewish dietary laws forbid eating pork.
The Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health also objected to the name, saying the virus contains avian and human components and no pig so far has been found ill with the disease.
And there is growing sentiment in the farm sector to call it the North American virus -- although disease expert Anthony Fauci told a Senate hearing the "swine flu" designation reflected scientific naming protocol.
For U.S. pork producers the swine flu name has hurt, forcing government officials into the position of stressing that American pork is safe to eat and that other countries should not ban imports.
Pork, soybean and corn prices have fallen in the last two days, "and if this continues, obviously you have significant potential, which is why it's important to get this right," Vilsack said.
At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was also talk of stripping the "swine" from swine flu, which CDC acting director Richard Besser said was leading to the misapprehension that people can catch the disease from pork.
"That's not helpful to pork producers. That's not helpful to people who eat pork. It's not helpful to people who are wondering, how can they get this infection," Besser told a briefing.
(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Patricia Zengerle)