This flu 'pandemic': Mexican pigs in a poke.
"Factory farms....manufacture low-cost flesh, with a side-dish of viruses to go". Johann Hari, The Independent, 1st May 2009.
I don't know about you: my picture of how and where this flu virus started was of a pretty little village of peasant farmers somewhere in the valleys of Mexico with a few pigs milling around outside their simple cottage. A few kids along with the farmer's wife would be smiling at the peasant as he fed his fat sows.
OK: I know I've been conned by the adverts for pork! It's not like that at all. The farm is probably some huge undertaking with pigs stuffed together like sardines in a barn, wallowing in their own shit, and probably overcome by the ammonia fumes this causes. The fumes (according to Johann Hari) burn the pigs' respiratory tracks, making it easier for the virus to enter them.
As NowPublic Babara McPherson points out (April 28: Mexican farm co-owned...) the farm thought to be at the epi-centre of the flu virus, contains 15,000 pigs. The authorities said that sanitation there 'is carried out according to legal practices'. You bet it is!
Yet those practices don't cover over-crowded pig pens where any fresh virus can play havock. And the smell from the waste products the villagers there complain about is entirely legal! These disease risks are the stock in trade of this commercial scale farming.
'Just watch out and give the pigs plenty of antibiotics'. The villagers complain: "the sickness is in the air. We breathe it everyday", according to today's Financial Times. It quotes 'a visiting inspector from the agricultural ministry there as saying: 'We're happy with what we've seen'. (If he wasn't happy he'd have disappeared before any journalist could nab him!).
Properly housed pigs, in pens that provide them enough space and plenty of fresh air, in small groups so that any disease does not spread so rapidly - such sensible models for animal husbandry hardly exist in today's profit centred agriculture.
Dr Ellen Silbergeld (professor of Environmental Health at John Hopkins University) says her research shows that:
"there is very much a link from factory farms to the new, more powerful forms of flu we are experiencing".
"Instead of the virus having only one spin of the roulette wheel, it has thousands and thousands of spins, for no extra cost. It drives the evolution of new diseases", says Johann Hari.
Dr Silbergeld points out:
"If you stand a few miles down-wind from a factory farm, you can pick up the pathogens easily".
The number of pigs crowded together in these vast industrial farms has spiralled up from ten per cent of all pig farms in 1994 to 72 per cent in 2001.
Liam Donaldson (UK Chief Medical Officer) warms us:
"Every inappropriate use in animals or agriculture of antibiotics is potentially a death warrant for a future patient". So what I want to know is: What are we doing to prevent the next hot-blooded virus appearing down wind, without any of us knowing?
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Redwater, Alberta, Canada