Are CAFOs Linked to the Swine Flu Outbreak? by Reid Mukai, CAGJ member
On April 25th, Tom Philpott of the news site Grist was one of the first American reporters to make a connection between possible links between the widely reported spread of the mutated form of the swine flu virus and CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations, aka factory farms) run by Granjas Carroll, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork supplier. He brought to light a post from U.S. disease detection and tracking website called Biosurveillance from April 6 which stated:
“Residents [of Perote] believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to “flu.” However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms.”
Philpott also cited articles from the Mexican newspapers La Marcha and La Jornada which reported similar information. On April 26, David Kirby of the Huffington Post posted an article that provided details about the background of Smithfield Foods and why the possibility that the new mutated strain of the swine flu virus originated from a factory farm is very high. Kirby’s most compelling argument was an excerpt from a report issued by the Pew Commision on Industrial Farm Animal Production which warned:
“The continual cycling of swine influenza viruses and other animal pathogens in large herds or flocks provides increased opportunity for the generation of novel viruses through mutation or recombinant events that could result in more efficient human-to-human transmission of these viruses. In addition, agricultural workers serve as a bridging population between their communities and the animals in large confinement facilities. This bridging increases the risk of novel virus generation in that human viruses may enter the herds or flocks and adapt to the animals. ”
This aspect of the emerging swine flu problem has since been followed up on by Stephen Foley of The Independant and Jo Tuckman and Robert Booth of The Guardian UK but the majority of US news media has still been silent on the matter.
So far, the CDC and USDA has not yet made a connection between the new swine flu outbreak and CAFO facilities but even if the proximity of the two is simply a coincidence, there’s a number of hazards factory farms present to animals, hog workers, consumers and the environment that are well documented. These including MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), drug-resistant E. coli, Salmonella, “traditional” swine flu, cruel animal caging, large-scale waste lagoons, toxic emissions, pollution of watersheds, sick livestock injected with hormones and antibiotics, and economic damage to smaller family-owned farms. One obvious way to reduce the risk of animal to human flu mutations is to work to shut down CAFOs and, if one is not a vegetarian, to buy pork and other meats from local sustainable farms.