Although the mainstream media in the United States hasn’t picked up on it, at least one Mexican newspaper and some U.S. bloggers are reporting that swine flu may have originated from mounds of porcine fecal matter at the Mexican subsidiary of U.S.-based Smithfield Foods — the world’s largest pork packer and hog producer.
As Tom Philpott at Grist writes, Smithfield operates massive hog farms Perote, Mexico, in the state of Vera Cruz, where the outbreak originated. According to the company Website, the operations are part of a Smithfield subsidiary called Granjas Carroll, which raises some 950,000 hogs per year.
Grist refers back to the Website Biosurveillance, which has this fascinating piece of information in its timeline of the swine flu outbreak:
Veratect reported local health officials declared a health alert due to a respiratory disease outbreak in La Gloria, Perote Municipality, Veracruz State, Mexico. Sources characterized the event as a “strange” outbreak of acute respiratory infection, which led to bronchial pneumonia in some pediatric cases….officials indicated that 60% of the town’s population (approximately 1,800 cases) has been affected. [...]
Residents 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. It was unclear whether health officials had identified a suspected pathogen responsible for this outbreak.
Although a connection between the swine flu outbreak and Smithfield farms has yet to be proven, and the company says it’s found no symptoms of the disease among its flock, the Mexico City Daily La Jornada is reporting on the possible link.
Blogger Charles Lemos also pointed out this eye-opening/stomach-turning 2006 article from Rolling Stone on the vast amounts of disease-spreading pig fecal matter produced by the Smithfield subsidiary:
The 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan. The best estimates put Smithfield’s total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year. That would fill four Yankee Stadiums. Even when divided among the many small pig production units that surround the company’s slaughterhouses, that is not a containable amount.
Smithfield estimates that its total sales will reach $11.4 billion this year. So prodigious is its fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do — even if it came marginally close to that standard — it would lose money. So many of its contractors allow great volumes of waste to run out of their slope-floored barns and sit blithely in the open, untreated, where the elements break it down and gravity pulls it into groundwater and river systems. Although the company proclaims a culture of environmental responsibility, ostentatious pollution is a linchpin of Smithfield’s business model.
A lot of pig shit is one thing; a lot of highly toxic pig shit is another. The excrement of Smithfield hogs is hardly even pig shit: On a continuum of pollutants, it is probably closer to radioactive waste than to organic manure. The reason it is so toxic is Smithfield’s efficiency. The company produces 6 billion pounds of packaged pork each year. That’s a remarkable achievement, a prolificacy unimagined only two decades ago, and the only way to do it is to raise pigs in astonishing, unprecedented concentrations.
According to La Jornada, the Mexican health agency has acknowledged that the “clouds of flies” multiplying in the Smithfield subsidiary’s manure lagoons could be responsible for spreading the disease.