The Pig, The CAFO, & The Flu

David Cassuto

tamworth pig and pigletExcellent piece here regarding the pig CAFO/swine flu link and another one here about the inefficacy of the vaccine approach to prophylaxis.  And yet another interesting piece here about the intelligence and social nature of pigs.

In light of these developments, let’s consider the American approach to pigs: mass confinement in facilities so devoid of stimulation for the animals that their tails are amputated to prevent them from biting each other.  In addition to torturing the animals, these facilities incubate disease, which our government then attempts to treat not by addressing the cause (factory farms) but rather with a mass vaccination program that will almost certainly fail, and a PR campaign to rename swine flu, H1N1.

What will we learn from this logic-defying juxtaposition?  If history is any predictor: nothing.

Swine Flu: Born in North Carolina

So it turns out that the H1N1 or (let’s call it what it is:) SWINE Flu is a Tarheel.  This outstanding post in Daily Kos tells the story about how the genes of this most recent virus are traceable to a 1998 outbreak at a Sampson County, North Carolina industrial hog facility.  The whole piece is worth reading but here’s a little taste:

Crowding thousands of pigs into cramped, filthy quarters creates ideal conditions for the fast spread of potentially dangerous viruses. The Humane Society of the United States points out that the unnatural density of such operations enables the large viral loads considered necessary for the emergence of rare flu mutations that can then spread rapidly among animals. The crowded conditions also stress the animals’ immune systems, while the enormous quantities of decaying fecal waste predisposes them to respiratory infections and the lack of sunlight allows viruses to thrive. In addition, the industry’s heavy reliance on pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines immunologically pressures the virus to mutate. And the flies and other pests attracted to such operations may be able to pick up viruses and carry them for miles.

So let’s stop all this nonsense about how pandemics like these are inevitable and that preparedness is the key.  Preparedness is certainly essential but the best way to avert deadly flu is to stop creating ideal conditions for its incubation.

–David Cassuto

CAFO Calumny

Today’s NYT reports that the pork industry is incensed at the public relations drubbing their industry has taken as a result of the swine flu outbreak.  The pork industry insists that it should be called something else.  Tom Harkin has decided to call the virus the “so called” swine flu.  Meanwhile, a number of countries, including the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Ecuador have banned the importation of U.S. pig products.

Now, there is no reported case of anyone contracting the disease through consuming pig products and it is highly unlikely that any such transmission would occur.  It would seem that the millions of people who are refusing to buy pork because they’re scared of contracting the flu are misguided and acting out of a type of reactionary ignorance that I usually abhor and which has led to some horrendously pernicious lawmaking.  So, I confess that the downturn in pork consumption connected with this outbreak does give me a moment of pause.

There; I’m over it now.  When it comes to factory farming, I’m a brutal instrumentalist.  Any reason that people want to use to help them stop eating factory farmed pig meat works just fine by me.

David Cassuto

Hog CAFOs and the Swine Flu Outbreak — You Do the Math

hogssm21 Flying below the media radar (at least in the United States) is an apparent link between a Smithfield Farms hog confinement facility in Veracruz, Mexico and the swine flu outbreak.  Although it has received little attention here, the issue has gotten significant coverage in Mexico.

Initial reports linked the disease’s vector to flies that reproduce in contaminated pig waste although that theory apparently does not withstand close scrutiny.  Others link it to a vicious cycle of wild ducks drinking contaminated water from sewage lagoons, landing and excreting in  “farmed” fish ponds, whose water then gets drunk by confined chickens,whose feces gets mixed into the feed to confined pigs, who then excrete the contaminants back into the sewage lagoons,which then gets drunk by the ducks, ad infinitum.

Even if it turns out that Smithfield’s facility did not spawn the virus, however, that conclusion would change little.  Adding massive confinement facilities with poor sanitation to an impoverished rural community with poor infrastructure is a recipe for disaster.  If not now then soon.

Hat tip to Daily Kos for breaking the story.  See also the OC Progressive.

David Cassuto