This thing really shouldn't be called Swine flu so much as Factory Farming Flu.
Edgar Hernandez, a boy who contracted the disease on 2 April and made a full recovery, was on Monday, identified by Mexico's Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova as 'patient zero' - the first officially identified victim of the new strain of flu.
Now why is this significant? Well, Young Mr. Hernandez lives in La Gordia, Veracruz, an area five miles downwind of the huge factory farm run by Smithfield Foods. If the company tried to run a factory farm like this one in their home state of Virginia, they would be subject to Health and Safety regulations, but not in Mexico.
What is being left out of the so called Swine Flu story is how the residents of Veracruz have been complaining since February that the air is filled with dried pig crap and that pig waste is being allowed to run off into the local waterways. Can you imagine having to move out of your house because huge swarms of flies have made it impossible for you to stay? Can you imagine having to live in a village with dried pig waste floating in the air and you and your children having to breathe it in 24 hours a day? Is it really surprising these people got sick?
The practise of factory farming has given us an artificial way to accelerate the evolution of deadly viruses - and spread them across the world. To understand how this happens, let's go back to our grandfather's day. Most pig farms then would have, at most, around 20 pigs at any one time. If a new strain of virus emerged, it would have a tough job getting past the pig's own immune system, as they would be living in the fresh air, on a varied diet, and without stress. If the virus did take hold, it could only travel as far as the pig could walk. Even if it infected the whole herd, it would hit the end of it's own evolutionaly cycle and die off. If it was very lucky, and made it to market, it would come across healthy pigs living in small herds, and would have little chance of spreading.
Compare this to what happens in a modern factory farm, where thousands of pigs are crammed snout-to-snout in tiny cages where they can barely move, are fed for life on an artificial pulp, while living on top of cess-pools of their own stale feces. The Smithfield Foods farm raises one million pigs a year in this way.
Instead of having just 20 pigs to experiment and evolve in, a virus now has a pool of thousands, constantly infecting and reinfecting each other. The virus can combine and recombine again and again. The ammonium from the waste they live above burns the throats of the pigs, making it even easier for the virus to get in. And better still for the virus, the immune systems of the pigs is comprimised. They are stressed, depressed, permenantly in a panic, with no fresh air or sunlight to bolster their natural resistance. They live in air thick with viral loads, and they are exposed every time they breathe in.
In 2003, the American Public Health Association called for a moratorium of factory farming because they saw something like this could happen, and many of the studies of factory farms that have been emerging in the past few years reinforce the argument. Dr Ellen Silbergeld is Proffessor of Environmentlal Health Sciences at John Hopkins University, and her detailed studies have led her to conclude that there is a 'definate link' between factory farms and the new, more powerful forms of flu that we are experiencing. She says 'Factory farms are not biosecure at all. If you stand a few miles downwind from a factory farm you can pick up the pathogens easily, and the manure from these farms is not always properly disposed of.'
So what are the chances of you getting this flu and dying from it? Well, if you have a strong immune system, you should only get a mild form of it. Why have so many Mexicans died? Not to knock the Mexicans any, but you have to remember a lot of Mexicans live in poverty and have little variation in their diet. They didn't have food riots last year because everyone is well fed and happy. Well fed people with varied diets will have stronger immune systems. And it helps if you don't have to live in an environment contaminated with pig sh!t and flies, all for the sake of providing the markets with 'cheap' meat.
We know that bird flu developed in the world's vast poultry farms, and we know that pumping animal feed full of antibiotics in factory farms has given us a new strain of MRSA, as the bacteria are triggered into an arms race, evolving to beat the antibiotics,- and emerge as pumped up, super-charged viruses, invulnerable to our medical weapons. The Centre for Computational Biology at Columbia University has studied the new virus, and rather than a human-swine-bird triple virus as was first thought, now believes it is a slight variant on a virus we have seen before. They know it's family tree, and it's daddy was a virus that evolved in the artifical breeding ground of a factory farm in North Carolina.
Agribusiness will deny that all this is happening. Smithfield Foods is protesting it's innocence, claiming that their testing has found nothing. But even if most of us avoid getting this strain of flu, what's to stop another one evolving, and creating a pandemic? How much harm do we have to do to ourselves in the name of cheap meat? I'm not a vegetarian, but I do think we need minumum standards for raisng animals for consumption, and they are not being met. Isn't it time we shut down these virus factories? Before a major disaster happens, one that will make this current episode look like a walk in the park?
Answered By: Heralda - 5/2/2009