Swine Flu Versus Pork Factory Farms

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Photo by David Blaine/FlickrCC


The Guardian's Mike Davis says Mexican swine flu is "a genetic chimera probably conceived in the faecal mire of an industrial pigsty." No wonder the pork industry is so upset about the bad publicity caused by swine flu. Their solution to this problem? Call it something else. This worked and the official name of the disease is now Influenza A (H1N1). No direct evidence, it seems, links pork CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) to this particular strain of H1N1 to human influenza. Of course there is no direct evidence. Nobody has been looking for it.

But now Canada has found some pigs sick with H1N1 at a farm in Alberta. Oops again. The World Health Organization (WHO) thinks the pigs caught the disease from a farm worker who had traveled to Mexico. WHO reports nearly 900 cases worldwide. As for the U.S., the New York Times has a nifty map of where the cases have been found.

In 2003, Science magazine noted that the classic swine flu virus, H1N1, was mutating rapidly, suggesting that neither pigs nor people could remain immune.

Scientists have been worrying about transmission of swine flu to people for some time. In 2003, Science magazine noted that the classic swine flu virus, H1N1, was mutating rapidly, suggesting that neither pigs nor people could remain immune to it. And nobody was doing any surveillance for swine flu. The Institute of Medicine, also worried, published major reports on the threat, prevention, and treatment of pandemic flu.

These days, the CDC is monitoring the situation and reports the U.S. case count is up to 226 (as of May 3). The CDC also reports international cases and describes specific cases in California and Texas. And, it notes, the virus is becoming increasingly resistant to antiviral drugs. But not to worry. It doesn't look H1N1 will turn out to be a big worldwide pandemic like the deadly one in 1918. At least not this time.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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