Saturday, 16 May 2009

Mass pig breeding creating pandemic

An interesting article on the danger of breaking biodiversity

Swine Flu: Warning, or the real deal?
by Sara Franklin

This swine flu thing: Outbreak, epidemic, pandemic. Has the potential
to be all three. And it's VERY scary. I remember being at the WHO
(World Health Organization) when Avian Flu was the hot button topic in
the global health community. There was absolute panic, and preparing
for the expected outbreak put everything else on the back burner in
Geneva. Avian flu temporarily dwarfed HIV, TB, malaria, and a whole
slew of other diseases that kill enormous numbers of people. After all
the panic and last minute funding and staffing, avian flu barely made
a dent.

Swine flu is different. Whereas avian flu developed in a centuries-old
system of Asian peasants living in close contact with their
subsistence livestock, swine flu is the result of large-scale
industrial agriculture, a system that has only developed in the last

In addition to being sad, this is infuriating. The company that owns —
or "half-owns," as the media is putting it — the "host" outbreak site
is a U.S.-based company. Not only American, but typically American —
the largest pork producer in the world! We're talking million-hog
feedlots. Sickening stench, incredible negative environmental impact
(manure reservoirs, for example, and concentrated CO2 emissions), and
most relevant, disease passed from pig-to-pig and now pig-to-person.

This is the way America farms now. Our animals and our plants. En
masse, only one species per area, "monoculture" is the term in the ag
world. And what the world is finally being made aware of is how
treacherous a path we're paving. We've messed with ecosystems and
their natural protective mechanisms (biodiversity), and now we're
paying the price. But wait, it's not exactly the United States that's
paying the price, at least not yet. It's Mexico and Mexicans: quick-
moving infection rates and death tolls; travel warnings; talk of
closing borders; and the inevitable stigma. As if Mexico didn't have
enough on its plate already...

That "Big Ag" in the United States has deemed it appropriate to not
only farm this way in the United States (bad for us), but to export
these agricultural practices (bad for us AND all the folks we inflict
our systems upon) to countries where land and labor are cheaper — all
facilitated by those "development" policies under the umbrella of the
North American Free Trade Agreement — is unforgivable. To make
mistakes on our own land, with our own soil, and our own population is
one thing. But that we've inflicted this upon Mexico, and as we're
fast learning, the world, is entirely another.

In the meantime, the U.S. government and "Big Ag" have gotten us into
this mess. And an apology (if ever we step forward with one) isn't
going to solve the problem. We should be frightened. And angry. We've
let "Big Ag" dominate our food system for too long, allowing their
profit-hungry motives and facade of "efficiency" to shush those
concerned with the environmental, health, and yes, even economic
impacts of industrial agriculture. Now, we're in deep, deep trouble.
We've been given several warnings - tainted tomatoes, spinach, peanut
butter. How many chances did we think we were going to get before
things got completely out of control? Maybe swine flu is our last
warning, or maybe we're really in for it this time. Either way, it's
time to open our eyes to the broad impacts of mass food production,
processing, and distribution in this country and abroad. It's a system
the United States has created, and we are responsible for the

Sara Franklin is the capacity building coordinator for WHY (World
Hunger Year).,

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