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Factory Farming Partially to Blame for Swine Flu?

Swine_flu I am already so sick of hearing about swine flu. On the off-chance that this really is the pandemic that wipes us all out, I will gladly accept many I-told-you-sos. For now, I'm leaning toward believing that it's a "glamorous" story that the media can beat to death.

It is a serious issue, though, particularly for people living and working in Mexico, who have been the hardest hit by the illness. As of today, 152 deaths and 1,600 illnesses are believed to be swine flu.

Residents and workers near a Smithfield Foods plant in Perote, Mexico, think that the factory-farming giant may be at least partially to blame for the outbreak.

Factory farming, if you're not familiar, is basically the industrialized production of animals for meat. Animals are kept at high-stocking densities and their lives do not resemble the idyllic image of grazing with a barn and silo in the background. Many animals never go outside and instead of eating the grasses and greens that they are supposed to eat, they are fed a steady diet of grains and antibiotics. The antibiotics are necessary because such close living quarters are breeding grounds for disease.

The benefits of this practice is that you get a lot of meat, supposedly for a cheap price. The risks are that the presence of the antibiotics raises resistance in the people who eat the meat, which can be really problematic when infections spread because, oh, oops, our medicine doesn't work.

Like anything else, there are good practitioners and bad practitioners. And it sounds like people are pointing toward Smithfield Foods as a bad practitioner. From grist.org: "According to one [Perote] resident, the organic and fecal waste produced by Granjas Carrol [the local Smithfield plant] isn’t adequately treated, creating water and air pollution in the region...area residents have long complained of “fetid odors” in the air and water, and swarms of flies hovering around waste lagoons. Like their counterparts who live in CAFO-heavy U.S. areas, they also complain of respiratory ailments. Now, with 30 percent of the area’s residents now infected with the virulent flu bug, people are demanding that state and federal authorities inspect hog operations there. So far, reports La Marcha, the response has been: nada."

Smithfield isn't keeping a clean house and it's possible that their shady practices are making people really sick. But hey...at least we have cheap bacon, right?

Related posts: The Ethics of Foie Gras, Smarm Your Way Out of This One, Corn Refiners, High Fructose Corn Syrup Is Your Friend







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Comments

Fairly Odd Mother

I've read that 70% of the antibiotics in the US go to healthy lifestock. As someone who fretted any time my babies had to use antibiotics for an ear infection, this figure is appalling. Do we then ingest the antibiotics via the animals we eat? Ugh. Instead, I'll pay $6 for a small pack of naturally raised bacon, thankyouverymuch.

anna

Technically most antibiotics have a withdrawal period and aren't to be administered after a certain date near the slaughter. I know this because my family raises beef cattle in the good old fashioned way (i.e. the only times they're in close quarters are when they're all in the corral waiting for their vaccines and anti-worm goo, a few days when the calves are in the corral during the weaning process, or on the truck on the way to the meat processor) and we always follow the rules on antibiotics. And we only use them if a cow has hurt her hoof or otherwise is actually for reals sick.

Factory farms? I don't trust them with antibiotics nearly as much.

Sils

I still think it's creepy to eat an animal you can exchange the flu with. Then again, I'm one of those tree huggin' vegetarians.

I'm just happy my business trip to a border town in Texas was cancelled on account of coughing pig death. While I didn't really relish the idea of giving up my weekend to risk shaking hands with thousands of people (many from across the border - Mexico) I was more concerned about the border violence we've been seeing lately with the drug czars and their minions.

norm

Hear, hear! If only all cattle were raised in a responsible way. The environmental and health consequences of industrial farming are horrific, but largely invisible. I hate to see it exposed only by tragedy like this.

rebecca

have you seen "death on a factory farm"? the saddest animal-related thing I have ever seen.

allison

While i do agree that antibiotics are grossly overused, I do think it's important to remember that flu is a virus & antibiotics have no affect on viruses. That said, flu viruses do replicate human dna, so the more frequent contact between species may lead to recombinations that equal swine flu in humans. and gross conditions on factory farms also can lead to the lack of hygiene that foster the spread of viruses. Not sure exactly what my point here is, but it's important to remember that antibiotics and their overuse really couldn't have a connection here.

vague

I think the terrible conditions in factory farms are DEFINITELY a contributing factor here. Pigs in these situations are very prone to all sorts of respiratory problems, swine flu among them. But yeah, I am also a tree-hugging vegetarian, so.




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