Back in the pre-Letterman golden days of American network late-night talk-show television—long before class and eloquence gave way to freakdom and trash-talk to keep viewers hooked—the late great Tom Snyder coined a definitive anti-vegan deadpan for the ages: “If we’re not supposed to eat animals, how come they’re made out of meat?”
A couple of generations on, it would seem that the animal kingdom and the anti-meat lobby are getting due revenge in spades, with most farmed animal species and livestock being linked to one sensational public health scare or another in recent years.
The current bout of global hysteria over the tragically misnamed “swine flu” is just the latest in a long string of high-profile scares that have already irreparably tainted the global consumers’ perception of meat products such as beef (mad cow disease), poultry (avian flu), lamb (foot-and-mouth disease), fish (dioxin pollution), deli meats (listeria) and—if you look hard enough—just about every animal protein out there. As if this never happens with spinach, peanut butter or carrot-juice, eh?
No matter. The idea that eating pork is like playing Russian Roulette with your health has caught on faster than you can say ‘tofu,’ and by the time this issue of Canadian Packaging hits the streets, an estimated 400,000 farm-raised pigs will be slaughtered in a culling frenzy in Egypt alone; thousands of rare wild boars will meet untimely death at zoos and nature reserves all over the world (something really creepy about Baghdad zoo being the global trendsetter on this one); and hundreds of North American pig farmers will be left reeling by hasty pork product bans by the likes of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Philippines and, of course, that great last frontier of consumer safety called China.
This is not to make light of what is undoubtedly a grave global health calamity. As The Economist points out: “If this swine flu is the next deadly pandemic, the world will curse itself for not being prepared.” (The Economist, May 2-8, 2009, page 70)
But being prepared is vastly different from being willfully misguided into enacting a cure that has unlimited potential to turn out to be far worse than the disease itself. As tragic as the fatalities directly attributed to the H1N1 outbreak are, the numbers pale into relative insignificance compared to the estimated 30,000 deaths caused each year by seasonal influenza in the U.S. alone.
In today’s modern global village, the likelihood of local disease outbreaks spreading well beyond national borders is an omnipresent threat, granted, but targeting suspect foreigners and blackballing entire animal species in panicky haste does no service to anyone—least of all to the country of origin.