Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Swine Flu Culprit: Factory Farming

With the swine flu outbreak spreading in Mexico and surfacing in the United States, few are stating the obvious: These diseases that spread from animals to humans are a direct result of the confinement and breeding processes of factory farming.

The spread of diseases from humans to animals is not new, but its origins can be traced to the domestication of animals and its rise to the intensive confinement of these animals. Michael Greger, M.D., wrote a haunting account of the inevitable spread of infectious disease in
his book Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching (available online for free). A graduate of Cornell University School of Agriculture and Tufts Medical School, Dr. Gregor is currently the current Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at HSUS. He writes,
"...most modern human infectious diseases were unknown to our hunter and gatherer ancestors.742 Early humans may have suffered sporadic cases of animal-borne diseases such as anthrax from wild sheep or tularemia (“rabbit skinner’s disease”) from wild rabbits,743 but the domestication of animals triggered what the director of Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment called the mass “spillover” of animal disease into human populations.744...

Epidemic diseases tend to be harbored only by those animal species that herd or flock together in large numbers. This concentration allows for the evolution and maintenance of contagious pathogens capable of rapidly spreading through entire populations. Unfortunately, this same quality—the herd instinct—is what makes these animals particularly desirable for domestication. Domestication brought these animals once appreciated mainly from afar (along with their diseases) into close proximity and density with human settlements. As a zoonoses research team concluded, “The spread of microbes from animals to humans was then inevitable.746..."
He goes on to explain that diseases such as Avian flu, swine flu and even Tuberculosis have their roots in the domestication of certain animals.

An op-ed piece published last month by Nicholas Kristof renounced agribusiness' use of antibiotics. Kristof warned about the dangers of MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph infection that was found in 25 to 39 percent of pigs in America.

The pork industry, however, has been quick to encourage Americans to continue consuming pig products as the contamination is not present in the foods. Renaming it "the so-called swine flu" C. Larry Pope, the chief executive at Smithfield Foods told the New York Times that "Swine flu is a misnomer. They need to be concerned about the influenza, but not eating pork." While Pope is correct in his analysis that the individual transfer of the disease does not occur at the level of food consumption, he fails to see the long-term effects of pig confinement on the spread of diseases. The disease may not be contained within the porkchops, but the industry is at the root of the problem.

1 comment:

  1. There is cruel irony happening here: Egypt has begun slaughtering all of the roughly 300,000 pigs in the country as a "precautionary measure" against swine flu (which has not been found in Egypt). Farmers will not receive compensation because they can still sell the meat. This correctly acknowledges that pig farming is the problem, although it is unclear whether this will affect the future attitude towards animal farming. The situation is also different because Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country where most people do not eat pork.