Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Let's Talk Swine Flu

Honestly I'm already sick of hearing about it, and I really wasn't intending to bring it up, but I came across this fascinating article talking about the origins of the current swine flu and how its outbreak can be attributed to terrible conditions at CAFOs (that's Confined Animal Feeding Operations for you non-aggies). The writer says that it shouldn't come as a surprise that an outbreak like this has happened, as the conditions in these CAFOs are so bad, and the health standards within the meat packing industry so low, that it was pretty much inevitable that something like this would occur.

The CAFO located near the epicentre of the outbreak is owned by Smithwick Foods, a U.S. company. Take this description found in the article, taken from a 2006 Rolling Stone article:

Smithfield’s pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around. Forty fully grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment. They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth. The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a catchment pit under the pens, but many things besides excrement can wind up in the pits: afterbirths, piglets accidentally crushed by their mothers, old batteries, broken bottles of insecticide, antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs — anything small enough to fit through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits. The pipes remain closed until enough sewage accumulates in the pits to create good expulsion pressure; then the pipes are opened and everything bursts out into a large holding pond.

The temperature inside hog houses is often hotter than ninety degrees. The air, saturated almost to the point of precipitation with gases from shit and chemicals, can be lethal to the pigs. Enormous exhaust fans run twenty-four hours a day. The ventilation systems function like the ventilators of terminal patients: If they break down for any length of time, pigs start dying.

I realize that these conditions are probably like those found in almost any CAFO, not just those in Mexico, and I really don't want to sound like I'm from PETA, but that description if fucking disgusting. Personally I would find it hard to give up meat (especially pork), but descriptions like these make me wonder if my vegetarian girlfriend isn't onto something.


Little Earl said...

You nailed it with the Outbreak reference. The first thing I think about whenever I think about a possible "super-virus" pandemic is Dustin Hoffman running around in a space suit. That movie scared the living Rene Russo out of me. Honestly if something is that microscopic, given the speed at which people constantly travel all over the globe these days, then there's no reasonable way you could expect to really "contain" it. We're basically just dead meat.

It sounds like this "Swine Flu" is not nearly "Outbreak"-level deadly however.

Herr Zrbo said...

^ Though I think that's what the media want you to believe.

ninquelote said...

I heard that the number of confirmed deaths from "Porky's Revenge" is actually much lower than has been reported by the media thus far because of Mexico's inability to accurately diagnose these things.

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