H1N1 or Swine Flu? Let’s call it what it is

I am saddened by the move to rebrand the swine flu as H1N1. Not only is it inaccurate, as explained by an article in today’s Globe and Mail, but it obfuscates the influenza’s connection to farming. It makes it seem as if this flu bug appeared out of nowhere.

True, we don’t know where the swine flu came from. One theory supported by epidemiologists is that an industrial farm in Mexico created the perfect environment for the virus to evolve. Yes, this is just a theory, but a theory we must recognize and consider. What if industrial farming is to blame? Shouldn’t we take heed? And even if this flu evolved in some wild hog or a freerange pig on a small Mexican farm, epidemiologists know that industrial farms are evolutionary heaven for viruses and bacteria.  Shouldn’t this make us pay more attention to zoonotic disease?

The move to rebrand swine flu seems to be about preserving  pork producers’ market. Rather than worry about whether or not people continue to eat the meat, we should use this flu as an opportunity to talk about the environmental and public health costs of the way we raise our livestock in North America and increasingly around the world.