Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Swine Flu

I figured it would just be a matter of time before I found an article looking into the link between the Swine Flu and confinement agriculture on the front page of one of the news websites. And, that time came this morning for FoxNews.com. In an article titled, "Swine Flu's Ground Zero? Residents Point to Farm," from the Associated Press we see the connection being made by a community of people somewhat close to Mexico City. Their contention is that they have been experiencing problems for a few months now because of hog confinement farm located about 5 miles north of their town.

The article is full of the townspeople blaming the farm, the farm saying that they were doing everything up to snuff, health experts saying that it could be the cause, and agricultural people saying that there are no signs of sick pigs in Mexico. Really the article gives no conclusion either way and just throws out the possibility that this is the case.

What really hit me though was this quote from the farm manager, "All of our pigs have been adequately vaccinated and they are all taken care of according to current sanitation rules." I do not know if the swine flu outbreak in Mexico was caused by confinement farms (I wouldn't be surprised if it was and I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't), but to me this statement says a lot about our culture.

We have become a culture that wants to do enough to get by and then no more. We no longer love to follow the spirit of the law, but are content to just stick to the letter of the law. Our business models very often factor in quality of life and benefits for the community, they only look at the bottom line.

And, when those ideas are applied to a farm with 15,000 pigs spread out between 18 confinement buildings I think we can have some problems. What happened to the idea that we wanted to do things as best as we could ... provide the best jobs ... the best work environment ... the best pigs ... and the best pork?

What is your take on the Swine Flu outbreak?


Yeoman said...

While I'm not fan of containment agriculture, I suspect that the risks posed to human beings from swine flu is higher in traditional agriculture. More handling of animals occurs in that environment than does in containment facilities.

Having said that, in the case of pastured pigs, I'd think the risk to humans would be very low.

Anyway you look at it, we're going to have a pork scare.

FWIW, the 1918 epidemic, at least according to some students of that outbreak, can be traced back to the first victim. . . who was in charge of keeping the pigs for the mess facility at Camp Funston.

Yeoman said...

As a added part of this, I hope people realize that you can't catch the flu by eating pork. I'm not too confident that people grasp that.

John Collis said...

The fact is; its some form of new flu virus. From what I have read it has some similarities with the swine and avian flu, but is not one or the other. There is not one single case of livestock having this virus, its only affecting humans!

Monica said...

Great article, Ethan. I like how you cover these issues in a polite manner.

We get pork from our local farm. I would never stop buying it due to a flu scare. However, this has made me question the wisdom of buying CAFO pork for my dog. The possibility of flu contraction is not an issue for me. It's just not an industry I wish to support at all anymore. Hopefully, Yeoman, we will not have a *non-confinement operation* pig scare. As for confinement pork I'm of the strong opinion it would be good if people created more demand for local, humanely raised animals.

Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if the swine parts of this flu (it's recombinant of avian and human flus as well) turns out to be linked to Granjas Carroll. You don't need more handling by humans. These viruses can be spread in the water supply and CAFOs are notorious for polluting water supplies. I would also not be surprised if viruses could be spread through aerosolized pig poo.

More crowding means more chance for recombination events because the virus can multiply and spread faster. 160 hogs per acre, big disease incidence. 2 hogs per acre, not so much. It also tends to make viruses virulent. When viruses cannot pass to another host easily, they must either lose virulence or go extinct. THis is pretty much what happened with SARS.

I agree we shouldn't jump to conclusions about this. But let's face it. Industrial ag. has created some pretty nasty bacterial strains, including acid- and antibiotic resistant E. coli and a new strain of MRSA in pigs. When you crowd this many animals into a small area and slam them with antibiotics every single day, evolution 101 predicts what will happen. And it has.

I wouldn't be surprised if this virus is never found in the pigs at Granjas Carroll. THe most logical explanation I have read is that it's quite possible that one of the affected residents (and they've been afflicted with respiratory problems from this hog CAFO since February!) also contracted another flu virus at the same time s/he was infected with a swine flu virus... and this recombination event took place to create the new strain.

By the way there is a very similar situation in apiculture. I'm a beekeeper. And there we have the same issue. The USDA has pushed high intensity, production and more production, and several chemical applications twice a year on bees -- for decades -- and now many commercial beekeepers are blaming the organic beekeepers for not using antibiotics when they are the ones that created antibiotic resistant strains!

Lisa said...

Ethan - My husband and I have been following your blog for a long while now but really never post a comment...I totally agree with you on your take of how America has become just a "get by" nation...you find it everywhere...so sad. I homeschool our kids and I am constantly trying to show them how you have to go above and beyond...if your going to do something you have to do it to the best of your ability....what happened in our country that this is not the standard anymore? Thanks for sharing your blog...My husband and I only dream of having a farm some day, right now we just pray God will bless us with the desires of our heart and we will keep up with you and Becca....Thanks again for letting us tag along - Lisa

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...