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Hog farming to blame for H1N1?
5/8/2009
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Densely packed livestock farms may spread illness.

The World Health Organization, or WHO, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization have repeatedly said that consuming cooked pork is not how the potentially deadly H1N1 influenza strain is spread.

As of May 7, 23 countries have reported 2,099 cases, more than 1,000 of them in Mexico, with 44 deaths attributed to the so-called “swine flu,” according to the WHO figures. The UN health agency on April 30 increased its alert level to 5. Cuba, Argentina, Ecuador and Peru suspended most flights to and from Mexico.

Hog farmers around the world have complained that sales are down because of fears that the flu could be spread by consuming pork. Egypt´s government said it would slaughter the country´s 300,000 pigs as a precaution.

But even though international health and agricultural agencies have dismissed claims that eating cooked pork will spread the illness, some have warned that conditions on farms themselves have long been hotbeds for developing viruses, such as this one.

GRAIN, an International, nongovernmental agricultural organization calls the H1N1 “a genetic cocktail of pig, bird and human influenza strains.”

“It has evolved to a form that is easily spread from human to human and is capable of killing perfectly healthy people. We do not know where exactly this genetic recombination and evolution took place, but the obvious place to start looking is in the factory farms of Mexico and the US,” GRAIN said in a report.

The perfect virus
“Experts have been warning for years that the rise of large-scale factory farms in North America has created the perfect breeding grounds for the emergence and spread of new highly-virulent strains of influenza,” said GRAIN. The organized added that in 2006, the US National Institutes of Health, or the NIH, found that “because concentrated animal feeding operations tend to concentrate large numbers of animals close together, they facilitate rapid transmission and mixing of viruses.” The NIH also warned that the close proximity of avian facilities to swine facilities could also “further promote the evolution of the next pandemic.”

The first cases of the virus in Mexico were found in a small village, La Gloria, in the eastern Veracruz state. Last year, some residents there began suffering from a strange respiratory illness.

The area is home to Granjas Carroll, a subsidiary of US company Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest hog farmer. Poultry farms are very close by.

“Could there be a more ideal situation for the emergence of a pandemic influenza virus than a poor rural area, full of factory farms owned by transnational corporations who care nothing for the well-being of the local people?” asked GRAIN.

A report by the Washington-based Pew Research Center last year titled “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America” found that “the continual cycling of viruses and other animal pathogens in large herds or flocks increases opportunities for the generation of novel viruses through mutation or recombinant events that could result in more efficient human-to-human transmission.”

GRAIN placed some of the blame on large farming corporations.

“It is not the first time and it will not be the last time that corporate farms conceal disease outbreaks and put people´s lives at risk. It is the nature of their business,” the organization said. “Factory farms are time-bombs for global disease epidemics. Yet, there are still no programs in place to deal with them, not even programs of independent disease surveillance.
—Latinamerica Press.


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