With all the press around the current swine flu epidemic, which has killed more than 150 people and sent thousands more to hospitals, it is somewhat disturbing that officials have not yet uncovered the source of the outbreak. Bloggers around the world have been working overtime to document the chain of illnesses, and more importantly to try to identify the source of the the virus in Mexico.
It now appears that the first illnesses were reported in small town called La Gloria, in the state of Vera Cruz in Mexico. La Gloria also happens to be the home to a massive hog farm owned by Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest producer of hogs.
As Ed Harris from Local Foods Research explains, “Bloggers… are exploring the links between Mexico’s industrial hog production industry—Smithfield Foods in particular—and the emergence of the new viral strain.”
Tom Philpott from Grist.org asserts that:
Smithfield operates massive hog-raising operations in Perote, Mexico, in the state of Vera Cruz, where the outbreak originated. The operations, grouped under a Smithfield subsidiary called Granjas Carrol, raise 950,000 hogs per year…. The Mexico City daily La Jornada has also made the link. According to the newspaper, the Mexican health agency IMSS has acknowledged that the orginal carrier for the flu could be the “clouds of flies” that multiply in the Smithfield subsidiary’s manure lagoons.
We don’t have any scientific proof that Smithfield is the source of this virus. But we have known for some time about the potential environmental and health risks related to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations—also known as CAFOs.
While there is no concern that pork coming from Smithfield is contaminated in any way, as swine flu is spread via human contact, not food, this story once again reinforces the need for Country of Origin Labeling Laws to help us track an increasingly global and industrialized food system.
It will be a real be a wake up call if health officials confirm that this potentially fatal health threat, which is now spreading through casual human contact, originated in CAFOs that are the source of much of our food.
UPDATE: A number of other journalists, including the Guardian (UK) have been investigating the potential links to Smithfields CAFOs. The company, Smithfield Foods, denies any connection to the outbreak.
UPDATE #2: The author of the original Grist post has a follow-up piece on the controversy.