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Deadly Swine Flu Outbreak Linked To Smithfield’s CAFOs

Thus far, more than 1000 people in Mexico, Texas, and California have been infected with a deadly new strain of virus that has killed at least 68 people. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned today that this new virus (called the “swine flu” although it’s a genetic mix of avian, human, and swine flus) has many of the traits of an emerging global pandemic.

That alone is scary news. Roughly 7% of the people who’ve gotten this disease are already dead. That, too, is scary.

But the scariest news of all? They believe this super virus originated in factory farmed pigs.

Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) for pigs are about as grotesque as they can come. Pigs are crammed into giant buildings, kept in stalls so small they can’t even turn around. The pollution from their waste is so noxious that you must wear a gas mask to enter the building.  And, of course, the pig’s immune systems are so weakened that you must don a “clean suit” just to walk within 100 feet of them.

In Mexico, where standards are more lax than in the United States, the story is even worse.

Grist’s Tom Philpott reports:

On Friday, the U.S. disease-tracking blog Biosurveillance published a timeline of the outbreak containing this nugget, dated April 6 (major tip of the hat to Paula Hay, who alerted me to the Smithfield link on the Comfood listserv and has written about it on her blog, Peak Oil Entrepreneur):

Residents [of Perote] believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to “flu.” However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms.

The real kicker? Thus far, the possible connection to Smithfield’s Mexican operation (Granjas Carroll, above) has not been reported in the U.S. news media.

But it’s all over the Mexican media. The stories tell of giant open air cesspools of improperly treated pig waste creating massive air and water pollution and a breeding ground for virulent pathogens.  “Clouds of flies” swarm over the waste and are the most likely carriers of this new and deadly disease. Now 30% of the area residents around the operation are infected with this new swine flu, and residents are demanding the Mexican government examine Smithfield’s Mexican hog operations as a potential culprit.

The Mexican government’s response? Silence.

Why does this scare me?

Because although a bit more regulated, our factory hog farms are no less pristine. Just last year the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm and Animal Production warned of emerging forms of avian-swine-human influenza viruses here in the U.S.

They said:

The continual cycling of swine influenza viruses and other animal pathogens in large herds or flocks provides increased opportunity for the generation of novel viruses through mutation or recombinant events that could result in more efficient human-to-human transmission of these viruses. In addition, agricultural workers serve as a bridging population between their communities and the animals in large confinement facilities. This bridging increases the risk of novel virus generation in that human viruses may enter the herds or flocks and adapt to the animals.

Reassortant influenza viruses with human components have ravaged the modern swine industry. Such novel viruses not only put the workers and animals at risk of infections, but also potentially increase zoonotic disease transmission risk to the communities where the workers live. For instance, 64% of 63 persons exposed to humans infected with H7N7 avian influenza virus had serological evidence of H7N7 infection following the 2003 Netherlands avian influenza outbreak in poultry. Similarly, the spouses of swine workers who had no direct contact with pigs had increased odds of antibodies against swine influenza virus. Recent modeling work has shown that among communities where a large number of CAFO workers live, there is great potential for these workers to accelerate pandemic influenza virus transmission.

In other words, they feared that an avian flu virus would get into a swine CAFO, mutate into something much more virulent, and then get passed to humans.

Sounds just like what happened in Mexico.
PEOPLE! We must put an end to CAFOs and factory farmed meats.

  • They are inhumane.
  • They produce unhealthy meats when compared to their grass-fed/wild/foraged counterparts.
  • They pollute area water and air supplies leading to increased respiratory problems and cancer rates for nearby residents.
  • And now we know they are a dangerous vehicle for the creation and spreading of lethal diseases.

What more evidence do we need?

Whatever we do — no matter how tight our pocket books — we must not support these operations with our food dollars.

Friends, please, please, please consider this an urgent plea to only buy humanely raised, CLEAN meat from sustainable farming operations. If you haven’t yet made the switch, let this be your motivation to do so.

(photo by johnnyalive)
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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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20 Responses to Deadly Swine Flu Outbreak Linked To Smithfield’s CAFOs
  1. CHEESESLAVE
    April 25, 2009 | 10:31 pm

    Thanks so much for posting this. I agree with you 100%. No more excuses. Stop buying factory farm meat. If you can’t afford organic/small farms, buy meat less frequently. Period.

    CHEESESLAVE

  2. Julie
    April 25, 2009 | 10:58 pm

    I was watching this whole story unfold on the news today in utter disgust. It’s amazing the number of problems we could avoid as a society if we did away with factory farming practices. This completely reaffirms all my efforts to find and purchase local, pastured meat for my family. It is so comforting to know that anytime there is a meat recall or any problems related to meat farming practices that the meat in my freezer had no part in it. I also generally pay the same or less for my meat than most people pay for commercial meat by seeking out families that raise grass fed/finished beef and pastured pork and chickens. It’s a bit more effort but well worth the results!

    Julie

  3. Fenlon
    April 25, 2009 | 11:39 pm

    You are living in a dream world. I’m sure it would be nice for your politics if CAFOs created the swine flu, but you clearly don’t know anything about animal husbandry. Nothing at all.

    Enjoy persistent ignorance.

  4. KristenM
    April 26, 2009 | 12:25 am

    Cheeseslave — That’s what we do. We place our biggest priority on getting good fats and quality animal products.

    Julie — I agree! We just took home a year’s worth of beef from the butcher this afternoon. We bought our 1/4 of a cow from a local rancher whose cattle are grass-fed and finished, and the price came out to $3.69/lb for EVERY cut of meat. PLUS we got a HUGE pile of organs & bones that others didn’t want.

    Fenlon — Right now I fail to see the fault in my logic, and calling me “ignorant” is hardly an argument that’s going to convince me to change my mind.

  5. Nomad
    April 26, 2009 | 4:04 am

    if the Swine Flu is anything like the other scares and outbreaks in the US, it shouldn’t amount to much (I’m hoping anyway)

    Nomad

  6. ewanfox
    April 26, 2009 | 5:54 pm

    Food Renegade KristenM: I appreciate all of your wonderful information, it means the world to me, keep it up! : ) and FENLON, why even bother coming to this site if your going to be rude, you did not even offer a good argument you were just rude. we don’t want your negative attitude around here. these blogs are trying to help people and our world not put them down!

  7. KristenM
    April 26, 2009 | 6:31 pm

    Nomad — I hope you’re right. Thus far the only deaths have all been in Mexico, and I would suggest they’re because of weakened immune systems (thanks to increased levels of poverty & malnourishment) & poorer hygiene, although that’s a total guess with absolutely zero supporting evidence.

    Ewanfox — You’re welcome. :)

  8. Rob Smart
    April 26, 2009 | 7:49 pm

    It’s great to see so many people clicking on your Tweet link and learning about this very real and very scary swine flu situations.

    The big question in my mind is will it be big enough (or deadly enough) to shift public opinion, and, more important, consumer behaviors.

    Thanks for the timely information!

    Cheers,

    Rob Smart

    Rob Smart

  9. Michelle @ Find Your Balance
    April 27, 2009 | 7:49 am

    You’re right, this certainly was not reported on Fox last night. (Which immediately makes me question why on earth I was watching Fox news…oh yes, it comes on after American Dad. Guilty pleasure!)

  10. Kyle
    April 27, 2009 | 10:36 am

    Sooo true! Great post, I knew you’d have something to say about the swine flu.

  11. Raine Saunders
    April 27, 2009 | 11:07 am

    I actually was in the process of posting this same topic on my Health Tip of the Day today when I came over and saw your post. It’s such an important topic and one that is being given not nearly enough creedance nor proper educational awareness to the public. It’s a responsibility we all have to ourselves, our children, the animals, and the earth. Enough said.

    Raine Saunders

  12. Motherhen68
    April 27, 2009 | 12:43 pm

    I am starting to freak about this swine flu. God knows how fast it could spread. Thanks for the information.

    Motherhen68

  13. JC
    April 27, 2009 | 1:04 pm

    Thanks for the important post. It makes you want to make a sign and go stand on the street corner and yell and scream!
    What can we do on a grassroots level? Call legislators? Call the press? Maybe we should start a drive to get the press to cover this story??

    JC

  14. Anna
    April 27, 2009 | 1:31 pm

    Ok, that’s just what I needed to look again for a local pork source. I was buying the past couple years from a nice couple who raised a few animals for their own food and sold the rest, but they split up and I lost my “supplier” (why does that have a faintly illicit ring?).

    I’m just about done with my frozen supply (the really odd bits are left and I need some inspiration to use them)and was procrastinating about checking out a sort of local source (1 hour drive to the ranch or 30+ minutes to a farmer’s market).

  15. Eco/Enviro Girl
    April 27, 2009 | 1:44 pm

    I feed my family organic everything!! Right down to the vegetable and fruit coloring in our candy!!! When are people going to wake up about what a monster the chemical companies have created and how the Governments let it happen!!! Where are the laws to protect us all? Parabens in our baby products, formaldehyde in our clothes, lead in out toys, GMO, chemical, steroids etc in our meat!! I am soo glad I’m a vegan!!!

    The problem is that my family and close group of friend who support organic and local foods are also paying for the consequences of the money hungry phrama companies by being in the line of fire when their “technological advances” backfire!!!!

    THE GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO GET THEIR HEADS OUT OF THEIR OWN BUTTS!! But it’s all about the money $$$$$$$$$$

  16. Zyklonia Dark
    April 27, 2009 | 7:45 pm

    I am 100% vegetarian. I am 100% vegetarian for a reason, this is one of them!! I have a rescue farm, but these animals have been saved from being eaten, and are not for that purpose. They are also a small amount of animals kept on a large amount of acreage and only fed grasses and hay, with no need for antibiotics because they are healthy!!! This is scary, it is only going to get worse, and I hope more people see the light that we cannot afford the cost of factory farming to feed america’s gluttony for meat products! If everyone cut their meat intake to one meal per day, we would have hundreds of thousands less animals being overdosed on antibiotics to keep them alive in horrible conditions, which cause viruses to mutate and become stronger!!!
    just something to think about!

  17. Lynne Overlander
    April 27, 2009 | 9:54 pm

    Thanks for the post!! Just watched Food, Inc. last night and was alarmed and disgusted by the growth of corporate farms in the US! Food, Inc did explain HOW are food is contaminated and how viral pathogens get out of control and into our food chain. It is really quite simple. The animals are crowded, most shoulder to shoulder, standing ankle deep in manure, improperly fed mush loaded with antibiotics, lacking necessary vitamins/minerals, which causes overgrowth of UNfriendly bacteria and causes immune system break-down of animal, making them more susceptible to viral/bacterial/fungal growth which enters OUR food chain! Who benefits? Not us.. Your blog was definitely timely!!

  18. Sister Sabbay
    April 28, 2009 | 4:47 pm

    Hi,

    Thanks for inviting me to this site. I want to say that the degeneration of health is unsurprising, as we are now living in the Final Events of Earth’s History. God is looking for a REMNANT, that will reproduce His Character, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20, Revelations 14:1-5). We must be prepared, maintaining a fixed, unchanging relationship with Yeshua, the Messiah (Ephesians 4:30, Revelations 7:1-4). God loves you!

    Sabbay
    AdventistWheat

  19. tater_chip
    April 28, 2009 | 11:33 pm

    Hey just wanted you to know I posted your story on my facebook page, only to have a friend tell me that the link came back error. I reposted and so far that link is working. I don’t know what happened. I have to admit, if you did not change the link and it posted fine originally, this is disturbing.

  20. Walter Jeffries
    May 2, 2009 | 1:01 pm

    I’m no defender of CAFOs, nor do I eat or buy their product, but the story in Grist struck me as low quality sensationalism. My fear is that in his eagerness to go after the easy target (factory farms) he may miss the real cause of A/H1N1. After all pigs haven’t actually been found to be the cause of this flu in any report I’ve seen. We must be careful not to get distracted and miss the real culprit.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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