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Could the Plague of Pigs Cook the Market’s Bacon?

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I don’t know how many of the readers of this post were around for the announcement that I am also writing for the KenyaImagine website, but earlier this week, I did a very brief summary of the nascent swine flu not-quite-pandemic (as of time at writing) that has captured the imagination of newsdesks and hypochondriacs across the globe in the last fortnight.

What concerns me now is how badly the global economy could be affected by the currently disparate actions being taken by governments across the globe. Already, the Egyptian government has ordered the slaughter of all pigs in the country. Many pig farmers in Egypt belong to the Coptic Church and are effectively subsistence farmers. Reports are already emerging of government health department vehicles being stoned and having to turn back from pig farms as farmers try to protect their livelihoods.

Egypt is, however, a predominantly Muslim country. In countries like Mexico, however, where pork can be anything from a mainstay to a delicacy, the pork industry will come out fighting. Especially when a major US pork producer just happens to have a substantial subsidiary operation in Mexico. Cooked pork has been declared safe to eat, provided you can find a butcher or restaurant happy to serve it to you without face masks with every human interaction. Nevertheless, it is only too understandable that consumers are nervous.

Some economists predict that the swine flu scare, whether it is upgraded to a pandemic or not, could cost the global economy more than $3 trillion, on top of all of the liabilities stemming from the global financial crisis. Should this new variant on the flu virus turn out to be easily communicable and contagious, we might lose up to 1% of the world’s population. That may not seem like many, but remember that there are more than 6 billion people sharing this galactical rock. We would notice them disappearing.

Of course, at the moment, the incubation period for the virus is unknown, it’s impossible to assess how many people may actually have been infected, and it is also a futile exercise to imagine that quarantine or containment measures might have a discernible effect. Don’t panic just yet; you may need the adrenaline for a real emergency. All we can do now is wait to see how serious the problem is, and to hope that none of the scientists currently working on a vaccine fall ill in the interim.

[Image by AriMoore]


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