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Scientific Reports Suggest Possible Link Between Swine Flu and Industrial Pig Farms

Since bloggers at Grist and Biosurveillance first starting pointing to a subsidiary of the U.S. pork producer Smithfield Foods as a possible source of the swine flu everyone’s now so panicked about, the mainstream media has started picking up on the story.

Although Smithfield is still denying that its hogs could possibly have been the source of the virus, I came across this illuminating document from the Center for Disease Control that details just how hazardous such Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, known as CAFOs, are — and why they’re tightly regulated in the United States.

U.S. regulations “require CAFOs to carry a permit and to develop nutrient-management plans designed to keep animal waste from contaminating surface water and groundwater,” according to the CDC.

I don’t know if Mexico has comparable regulations, but according to Mexico’s La Jornada (quoted by David Kirby in The Huffington Post):

Clouds of flies emanate from the lagoons where Granjas Carroll discharges the fecal waste from its hog barns – as well as air pollution that has already caused an epidemic of respiratory infections in the town.

If this is the case, it sure doesn’t sound like strict health or environmental rules there are being enforced.

According to the CDC:

People who work with livestock may develop adverse health effects, including chronic and acute respiratory illnesses and musculoskeletal injuries, and may be exposed to infections that travel from animals to humans. Residents in areas surrounding CAFOs report nuisances, such as odor and flies. In studies of CAFOs, CDC has shown that chemical and infectious compounds from swine and poultry waste are able to migrate into soil and water near CAFOs.

Plus, “manure-related discharges at CAFOs include … pathogens, such as parasites, bacteria, and viruses, which can cause disease in animals and humans.”

The World Health Organization confirms that “

Of course, this doesn’t prove that the swine flu came from the Granjas Carroll hog farms — a subsidiary of Smithfield — in La Gloria, Mexico. (The WHO has sent experts down to Mexico to investigate the potential link.) But it does seem to call into question the claims of the Mexican pig farming industry that “pigs are not the cause of the flu that is affecting the country. It must remain clear that the flu problem is caused neither by the proximity to swine operations nor by the consumption of pork meat or pork products.”

The pork industry, worried about declining sales, has asked the WHO to change the name of the disease so as to protect the industry’s reputation; the health organization, however, insisting that the disease does come from pigs, has declined.

For a more detailed account of the development of this story and its latest twists and turns, check out Tom Philpott’s excellent reporting at Grist.

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