A food system that kills — Is Swine Flu the meat industry’s latest plague?

Here’s an excerpt from a great story on the Swine Flu from grain.org:

“Mexico is in the midst of a hellish repeat of Asia’s bird flu experience, though on a more deadly scale. Once again, the official response from public authorities has come too late and bungled in cover-ups. And once again, the global meat industry is at the centre of the story, ramping up denials as the weight of evidence about its role grows. Just five years after the start of the H5N1 bird flu crisis, and after as many years of a global strategy against influenza pandemics coordinated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the world is now reeling from a swine flu disaster. The global strategy has failed and needs to be replaced with a public health system that the public can trust.

What we know about the situation in Mexico is that, officially speaking, more than 150 people have died from a new strain of swine flu that is, in fact, a genetic cocktail of pig, bird and human influenza strains. It has evolved to a form that is easily spread from human to human and is capable of killing perfectly healthy people. We do not know where exactly this genetic recombination and evolution took place, but the obvious place to start looking is in the factory farms of Mexico and the US.

Experts have been warning for years that the rise of large-scale factory farms in North America has created the perfect breeding grounds for the emergence and spread of new highly-virulent strains of influenza. “Because concentrated animal feeding operations tend to concentrate large numbers of animals close together, they facilitate rapid transmission and mixing of viruses,” said scientists from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2006. Three years earlier,Science Magazine warned that swine flu was on a new evolutionary “fast track” due to the increasing size of factory farms and the widespread use of vaccines in these operations. It’s the same story with bird flu. The crowded and unsanitary conditions of the farms make it possible for the virus to recombine and take on new forms very easily. Once this happens, the centralised nature of the industry ensures that the disease gets carried far and wide, whether by feces, feed, water or even the boots of workers. Yet, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “no formal national surveillance system exists to determine what viruses are prevalent in the US swine population.” The same is true of Mexico.

Communities at the epicentre

Another thing we know about the swine flu outbreak in Mexico is that the community of La Gloria in the state of Veracruz was trying to get authorities to respond to a vicious outbreak of a strange respiratory disease affecting them over the past months. The residents are adamant that the disease is linked to pollution from the big pig farm that was recently set up in the community by Granja Carroll, a subsidiary of the US company Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer.

After countless efforts by the community to get the authorities to help — efforts which led to the arrest of several community leaders and death threats against people speaking out against the Smithfield operations — local health officials finally decided to investigate in late 2008. Tests revealed that more than 60 per cent of the community of 3,000 people were infected by a respiratory disease, but officials did not confirm what the disease was. 

Smithfield denied any connection with its operations. It was only on 27 April 2009, days after the federal government officially announced the swine flu epidemic, that information came out in the press revealing that the first case of swine flu diagnosed in the country was of a 4-year old boy from the community of La Gloria on April 2, 2009.  Mexico’s Minister of Health says a sample taken from the boy was the only sample taken from the community that Mexican officials retained and sent for laboratory testing, which later confirmed that it was swine flu. This despite the fact that a private risk assessment firm in the US, Veratect, had notified regional officials from the WHO about the outbreaks of the powerful respiratory illness in La Gloria in early April 2009.

On 4 April 2009, the Mexican daily La Jornada published an article on the struggle of the community of La Gloria, with a photo in which a young boy is holding a placard at a demonstration with a picture of a pig crossed out and the words “Danger: Carrolls Farm” written on it in Spanish.

About influenza pandemics in general, we know that proximity of factory pig farms and factory poultry farms increases the risks of viral recombination and the emergence of new virulent flu strains. Pigs held near to chicken farms in Indonesia, for instance, are known to have high-levels of infection from H5N1, the deadly variant of bird flu. Scientists from the NIH warn “that increasing the numbers of swine facilities adjacent to avian facilities could further promote the evolution of the next pandemic.”

While it has not been widely reported, the region around the community of La Gloria is also home to many large poultry farms. Recently, in September 2008, there was an outbreak of bird flu among poultry in the region. At the time, veterinary authorities assured the public that it was only a local incidence of a low-pathogenic strain affecting backyard birds. But we now know, thanks to a disclosure made by Marco Antonio Núñez López, the President of the Environmental Commission of the State of Veracruz, that there was also an avian flu outbreak on a factory farm about 50 kilometres from La Gloria owned by Mexico’s largest poultry company, Granjas Bachoco, that was not revealed because of fears of what it might mean for Mexico’s export markets. It should be noted that a common ingredient in industrial animal feed is “poultry litter”, which is a mixture of everything found on the floor of factory poultry farms: fecal matter, feathers, bedding, etc

Could there be a more ideal situation for the emergence of a pandemic influenza virus than a poor rural area, full of factory farms owned by transnational corporations who care nothing for the well-being of the local people? The residents of La Gloria have tried for years to resist the Smithfield farm. And they tried for months to get authorities to do something about the strange illness hitting their people. They were ignored. Their voices did not register a single blip on the radar of the WHO’s global emerging disease surveillance system. Nor did the bird flu outbreaks in Veracruz trigger a response from the OIE’s global disease alert system. News only broke out haphazardly from private sources. This is what passes for global surveillance….”

Read the whole story here; there’s lots more.

Thanks to Warren Kinsella for bringing the video to our attention in his post of April 29th.

April 30 update: Aporkalypse Now



Filed under News

3 responses to “A food system that kills — Is Swine Flu the meat industry’s latest plague?

  1. Pingback: Swine Flu a result of industrial farming? « The Bovine

  2. Pingback: Mexican swine flu - what’s it all about? « The Bovine

  3. Pingback: Aporkalypse Now — the tinfoil hats may have gotten it right after all — CAFO pig farm theory being discredited as cause of recent Mexican Swine flu outbreak « The Bovine

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