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.
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.