Swine Flu - Gift of Industrial Agriculture

Sharon May 1st, 2009

I’m on my way to Maine for a talk at a Grange near Portland, about our agricultural system, so a short one from me today.

If you haven’t read Tom Philpott’s excellent analysis of the possible role industrial hog production has played in the development of what is now pretty much a pandemic (we’re at level five on the pandemic alert, and the WHO keeps forgetting that we’re not there yet), albeit so far a mildish one, do it now.

If it turns out to be the case that this virus emerged out of the nightmare situation of industrial agriculture, I would expect to hear lots of calls for “regulation” of confinement meat operations, and new “safeguards.” 

But I think the emergence of a global flu pandemic (and we should remember that that’s on top of a host of other emergences, including possible links to avian influenza) should remind us that the problem we’re facing can’t be fixed by very small refinements upon a vast foolishness. 

That is, as long as we keep raising a million hogs at any given time in a comparatively small place that can’t, in itself, support them, we’re facing an endless stream of contaminations and incubations of disease.  The only possible solution is decentralization - a fundamental shift away from replacing people with oil and industrial equipment, and the re-placing of people into agriculture.

It looks like we may dodge the bullet on an incredibly destructive pandemic - with luck, this will not mutate into anything worse.  But that’s only because we got lucky.  And that’s worth remembering when people start talking about “regulation” and “safeguards.”

19 Responses to “Swine Flu - Gift of Industrial Agriculture”

  1. veraon 01 May 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Um… wasn’t the Spanish Flu in 1919 caused by Kansas pigs… before industrial ag? I think with any close-quarters animal keeping, you’ll have viruses and bacteria jumping the species barrier. Been going on for a long time…

    When you have moderate numbers of humans, epidemics snuff out easily. With huge numbers of humans… it keeps on going. Not that I would not jump on the chance to blame industrial ag!

  2. Elizabethon 01 May 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Sharon — I thought this virus was not evident in the pigs. It has both european and asian genetic materials in it. I think it is too early to tell exactly what it is. I had read somewhere the flu season was expected to extent into April. Well, it is going into May, too.

    Remember 36000 people died last year from flu. Many of the deaths in Mexico from whatever this is are now being attributed to pneumonia. I would love to know how many of the patients that died had other health issues that made them vulnerable. The mexican child that died in Texas had other health issues, too.

    I do not want to make light of something that could be very serious. But…we need to know all of the facts. I don’t think we will have them for a while…


  3. Laurieon 01 May 2009 at 4:58 pm

    I have been a follower of your postings for a while but I rarely comment. I thought I’d express my opinion on this subject today:

    I really believe this swine flu “pandemic” is a big PR stunt and a distraction for other more important issues. This thing was hyped from the get go. I imagine Mexico has large numbers of folks die, of common sickness and disease, on a regular basis. Of the millions of people in our country and 40 some odd people have mild symptoms of a flu because they were tourists in Mexico,the government deems it necessary to hype it up causes me to be a bit suspicious. But that’s just my humble opinion.

  4. Green Assassin Brigadeon 01 May 2009 at 6:43 pm

    This article blames the flu on factory farming and NAFTA


  5. English Animiston 01 May 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Yay - you are on your way. See you in Maine tomorrow!

  6. NMon 01 May 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Regardless of whether it turns out to have presented us with swine flu, industrial agriculture has been implicated in various other unpleasant gifts, such as some really alarming antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
    Just to keep the anti-industrial-ag theme going … :D

  7. Sharonon 01 May 2009 at 8:28 pm

    As I say in the post, I agree that this is a mildish variant of flu. That said, however, it does come very close to meeting all the criteria for a pandemic - and probably will. The reasons for concern are that flu viruses mutate quite rapidly and enthusiastically.

    The reality is that the odds of any given flu season including a highly virulent flu variant with a high fatality rate are extremely low. It is also the case that the odds of *not* encountering such a variant in the next 50 years are also extremely low. I don’t think flu pandemics are just hype - although this one may be pretty minor.


  8. Sharonon 01 May 2009 at 8:39 pm

    Vera, true, although the Kansas thing is probably a myth - the best guesses about the origin seem to center on Asia. At the same time, however, radically compromising the immune systems of tens of thousands of pigs and putting them in close quarters is only likely to accellerate the process.

    One parallel that is worth noting - and the reason I think the situation now is important is that the 1918-19 flu originated with an mild flu in the spring, then mutated into its much more virulent form, causing cytokine storms, by autumn. The most prevalent and contagious strains of the flu seem mostly to be mild - but that doesn’t mean they will stay that way.

    That said, it doesn’t mean they won’t - I’m not claiming otherwise, or that we definitely will find that there’s an industrial ag connection, but the reality is that the dangers of confinement agriculture are huge - from contamination to oil dependency, and pointing out clear and present danger is, IMHO, important to the kind of future we need.


  9. bryanon 01 May 2009 at 10:39 pm

    I’m no fan of CAFO but I thought the theory was these influenza shifts were caused by living with your animals - pick up two simultaneous viruses (especially 2 different species) and they do a gene swap.

    I don’t think very many people sleep with their 20,000 pigs…


  10. veraon 02 May 2009 at 9:59 am

    Who profits by the panicmongering? Check out the latest at globalresearch.ca.

    “Statements of this nature on the “inevitable spread” of the disease, create, quite deliberately, an atmosphere of fear, insecurity and panic. They also serve to distract people’s attention from a devastating global economic crisis. The EU announcement of the swine flu pandemic inevitably serves to weaken the social protest movement which has spread across Europe. In Mexico, the swine flu emergency measures which have “closed down” entire urban areas, are widely perceived as a pretext of the Felipe Calderon government to curb mounting social dissent against one of the most corrupt administrations in Mexican history.”

  11. Sharonon 02 May 2009 at 10:28 am

    True, and one of the things I expressed concern about in my prior post on the subject - but it also works the other way around. That is, the economy is dependent on the minimization of risk that stands in opposition to global capitalism. It isn’t really one thing or another, but both simultaneously.


  12. Lydiaon 02 May 2009 at 10:30 am

    Fear mongering at it’s finest………….this is to sell vaccines and god knows what other reasons the PTB have in mind.

  13. Billon 03 May 2009 at 2:00 am

    To me, this harkens back to that great Sci-Fi story “WAR OF THE WORLDS”, in which the invading “Martians”, having proved resistant to our best tecno-explosive toys, were brought low by some species of microorganism (virus?).

    Many authors have presented the idea that, instead of freaking out about Peak Oil, Climate Change and Famine, we ought to be attending to the fact that a WAR OF THE WORLDS scenario is a clear and present danger…with us humans on the losing side.

    Vera posts some interesting ideas. Big Pharma’s role in all this hoopla…including Donald Rumsfeld’s…has yet to be popularly circulated. Ho hum…the sheep return to grazing on more and more toxic stuff. LATOC has some interesting links on this subject.

    Sharon, I hope you’ll post a re-cap of your time at the Grange in Maine. Please?

  14. Gailon 03 May 2009 at 9:04 am

    Tamiflu is made from star anise! Make your own garam masala. If I had a choice, I would catch this mild flu now and then have some protections for the fall. Best of all, improve my immune system and ignore the government and media. Eat more garlic.

  15. Greenpaon 03 May 2009 at 9:19 am

    One of the best lessons of this flu is how malleable the phenomenon is- virtually everybody with a cause is finding a way to turn the flu, or the reactions- to their benefit! Lots of Polka Dot Gallows fodder.

    Personally, I think the probability of a CAFO origin is fairly good. You don’t have to sleep with the pigs to swap viruses- you just have to breath, or cough. Sure, CAFO workers usually have masks on in the facilities- but the operant word is “usually.” Anybody here ever have an employee who ignored instructions?

    Sharon “If it turns out to be the case that this virus emerged out of the nightmare situation of industrial agriculture, I would expect to hear lots of calls for “regulation” of confinement meat operations, and new “safeguards.”

    Yeah, sure, but don’t hold your breath regarding results. Calls for regs?- yep; effective new regs? Really up-hill.

    There have already been scientifically very convincing instances of antibiotic resistance in diseases developing in livestock; and the resistant strains of bacteria then being transferred to humans. Very convincing. Documented; peer reviewed; published; discussed. But the use of casual antibiotics in CAFOs goes on.

  16. Jerryon 03 May 2009 at 11:46 am

    It is hard to be sympathetic to a swine farm with close to one million pigs raised in one year. They haven’t proved this strain of flu originated there but by now the flu has mutated so it will be hard to prove. I too agree with you Sharon that industrial farming is an accident waiting to happen. Pigs, chickens, and cows raised in such large numbers in close proximity to eachother is stressful and feeding antibiotics does nothing to stop viruses. Resistant bacteria is of course another offshoot of industrial farming.

  17. Michelleon 03 May 2009 at 8:15 pm

    Albert Bates posted an interesting article on the connection between Donald Rumsfeld, Tamiflu and this new A/H1N1 strain of influenza.
    You can follow the links in the article for more flu conspiracy….

    However this strain came about I agree the concern is not this first wave but if there happens to be a second wave outbreak and with the rate at which anti-virals are being prescribed as preventatives aren’t we just encouraging resistance??

  18. koryon 04 May 2009 at 9:49 am

    Mother Earth News did a whole piece a couple issues back about all the “wonderful” hidden costs of CAFO meat, from MRSA to swine flu. Will people learn or will we just keep swallowing the spider to catch the fly.

  19. Jyotsnaon 05 May 2009 at 1:23 am

    I’m sure it has been said before, but doesn’t hurt to say it again…the more virulent flu in Mexico is more than likely due to the fact that people in Mexico don’t have access to health care like we do in the US. Also, the health of Mexicans at the onset of this pandemic was already low, so their conditions are much worse than here in the US where almost anyone can get admitted to the hospital and receive IV fluids (as a first treatment to the flu).

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