Thursday, April 30, 2009

Organic Consumers Association Links Swine Flu to Factory Farms: Demands Closings

--trends + business + politics--

In light of news reports that the swine flu outbreak may have begun in La Gloria, a town in Veracruz, Mexico, near a cluster of factory farms co-owned by Smithfield Foods, the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexican counterpart, Via Organica, want Smithfield's North American operations shut down until their lagoons of pig feces -- where viruses can reside for 3 to 6 months -- are tested and there is a plan for dealing with infected waste. The Associated Press reported today that a farm manager at Granjas Carroll de Mexico, Smithfield's Veracruz partner, said no one from the government has inspected his farm (18 warehouses holding 15,000 of Granjas Carrol's 950,000 hogs) for swine flu.

Public interest organizations such as the Organic Consumers Association and the Humane Society of the U.S. have warned for years that drugged-out animals on intensive confinement factory farms are incubating deadly viruses that could set off a deadly epidemic.

The swine flu, a dangerous and rapidly spreading strain of influenza, which combines genetic material from pigs, birds and humans in a way researchers have not seen before, has killed over 152 people in Mexico (as of April 24, 2009), infected thousands, and spread to over a dozen countries, including the United States. There were even concerns that President Obama himself might have been exposed to the disease when he toured a Mexican museum with an archaologist, Felipe Solis, who died the next day of flu-like symptoms. (Mexican and American officials now say the death was unrelated to swine flu.)

The World Health Organization is warning that the outbreak could reach global pandemic levels. The last major global pandemic, the 1918 flu epidemic, killed 20-50 million people.

Despite company denials, a number of Mexican and U.S. news outlets are pointing to Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pig producer ($12 billion in annual sales), as a likely source of the deadly outbreak. Smithfield sells pork and operates massive hog-raising operations in 40 nations, including Perote, Mexico, in the state of Veracruz, where the outbreak originated. For months, local residents and workers in Mexico have complained of pollution, contamination, and illnesses from the Smithfield plant. For years, Smithfield has been criticized in the United States for polluting rural communities, endangering public health, and exploiting workers and farmers.

Factory farms, such as Smithfield, dose pigs with massive amounts of antibiotics and vaccines, resulting in swine incubating and spreading antibiotic-resistant pathogens and mutated viruses. This is considered a major human health hazard by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Given these serious public health concerns, a number of health and safety organizations have called for limits or bans on the use of antibiotics in livestock farming including the American Public Health Association, American Medical Association, Infectious Diseases Society of America, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. .

Organic Consumers Association and Via Organica are calling on their hundreds of thousands of members in the US and Mexico to contact Mexican President Calderon and his Agriculture Secretary Alberto Cardenas and US President Obama and his Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and urge them to:

-Immediately ban Confined Animal Feeding Operations (hog, beef, and chicken factory farms) across the United States and end the dangerous practice of feeding antibiotics to farm animals.

-Initiate a criminal investigation of Smithfield Foods and other major factory farms that could be a source of disease outbreaks.

Learn more at Organic Consumers Association's Swine and Bird Flu Center:

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