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typewriter "Words have power" iStock/Getty Images Plus/Michail_Petrov-96

Say what you mean; mean what you say

Calling African swine fever a “people’s disease” does not mean that people can contract ASF. People cannot become infected with ASF.

As a person who makes a living writing, I know that words are necessary and powerful. Words help humans communicate, but as we’ve seen as of late, words can also be used to create divides between people.

We have also experienced how words can be used to convey messages for a product or a cause. The advent of social media has brought the amount of information to a heightened level, and we have seen how this greater connectivity has created the opportunity for misconstrued or even inaccurate messages to be conveyed.

Nowadays we have to be so careful about what we say and write, no only so that we don’t offend someone (which seems to be far too common these days), but also to be sure that the message that we wish to convey comes across clearly.

Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

As we in the swine industry are charged with telling our story to a disconnected consumer base, we often need to catch ourselves to explain things to be more easily understood. Sometimes that means scrapping the ag lingo that is so common place in our lexicon. We talk “farrowing” and “sows” and those words probably mean nothing to a city-dwelling potential pork consumer. We need to say the “birthing room” where the “mother pig” will give birth.

Saying what we mean in agriculture is being taken to another level as African swine fever spreads across the other side of the globe and we attempt to stress the seriousness of keeping ASF out of the United States and away from our pigs.

ASF has been labeled a “people’s disease,” meaning that the pathogen will more than likely make it to America with people as the conduit by bringing an infected pork product from a country that has ASF. Calling ASF a “people’s disease” does not mean that people can contract ASF. People cannot become infected with ASF.

Words can be equally powerful by what is not said. I learned this after I posted my blog this past Tuesday. I wrote about the possibility that ASF could make its way to the United States in a pork product brought by a tourist from an ASF-infected country. I went on to add the parenthetical: (Again, remember that ASF is not transmissible to humans through consumption of ASF-contaminated meat.)

The next day I took a call from Steve Meyer of Kerns and Associates alerting me that I may be taking heat for that parenthetical. Not because what I wrote was inaccurate, but because of what I didn’t write. He suggested that if the wrong person read that parenthetical, they may be left wondering, “OK, if ASF is not transmissible to humans by eating ASF-contaminated meat, how is it transmissible to humans?”

Again, we know that ASF is not transmissible to humans, not through eating contaminated meat, not through working with infected pigs, not through shaking hands with a tourist who just returned from an ASF-infected country. ASF is not transmissible to humans, plain and simple.

I have since edited last Tuesday’s blog, so it reads the way it should have originally.

That is also the beauty of words: they can be fluid, we can edit them as we wish, as we change our thoughts, and change our intentions. We can finetune to more deliberately deliver our message.

If you want more words about ASF and other foreign animal diseases and ways to protect our farms and country, please click this link to a Foreign Animal Disease Resources page on the National Pork Board website.

You will learn a lot about ASF and the other diseases, and the measures that you can take to ensure a continued healthy U.S. pig herd and pork supply. You can take my word for it.

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