Swine Flu and Factory Farming

The outbreak may be spurred on by the way our food is produced.


The way that our food is produced may have played a role in the recent outbreak of swine flu. Factory farms of hogs, which keep thousands of animals in close quarters, allow disease to spread quickly from hog to hog before making the jump to humans.

[check out our list of 14 Things You Should Know to Stay Safe from Swine Flu]

Says David Kirby of the Huffington Post:

For years, leading scientists around the world have worried that large-scale, indoor swine "factories" would become breeding grounds for new pathogens that could more easily infect humans and then spread out rapidly in the general population - threatening to become a global pandemic.

We know that hog workers in Europe and North America are far more likely than others to be infected with potentially lethal pathogens such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), drug-resistant E. coli and Salmonella, and of course, swine influenza. Many scientists also believe that people who work inside CAFOs are more at risk of contracting and spreading these and other "zoonotic" diseases than those working in smaller-scale operations, with outdoor pens or pasture and far lower animal density.

Free-range pork farms don't carry the same risks to human health.

But, what about traditional outdoor farms? Aren't those animals even more susceptible to wild type viruses than animals kept indoors, as industry claims? "Well, let's say that animals in confinement are ten times less likely to be infected by wild animals," said [Ellen Silbergeld, professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health], "But there are 100 times as many of them. You do the math."

Grist says the outbreak could be linked to a farm run by Smithfield, the largest producer of pork in the world, though officials are still unsure, and the company has denied this. If the outbreak is linked to factory farms, it will provoke a hearty discussion about how our food is produced.


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