News Release

Swine Flu and Meat Industry

MIKE DAVIS
Available for a limited number of interviews, Davis is author of The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu. He just wrote the piece The Really Dangerous Swine Wear Suits. Davis’ other books include City of Quartz, Ecology of Fear, In Praise of Barbarians and Planet of Slums.

His most recent piece states: “The Mexican swine flu, a genetic chimera probably conceived in the fecal mire of an industrial pigsty, suddenly threatens to give the whole world a fever. The initial outbreaks across North America reveal an infection already traveling at higher velocity than did the last official pandemic strain, the 1968 Hong Kong flu. …

“Given that domesticated seasonal Type-A influenzas kill as many as 1 million people each year, even a modest increment of virulence, especially if combined with high incidence, could produce carnage equivalent to a major war. …

“The mythology of bold, preemptive (and cheap) intervention against avian flu has been invaluable to the cause of rich countries, like the USA and UK, who prefer to invest in their own biological Maginot Lines rather than dramatically increasing aid to epidemic frontlines overseas, as well as to Big Pharma, which has battled Third World demands for the generic, public manufacture of critical antivirals like Roche’s Tamiflu.

“Perhaps it is not surprising that Mexico lacks both capacity and political will to monitor livestock diseases and their public health impacts, but the situation is hardly better north of the border, where surveillance is a failed patchwork of state jurisdictions and corporate livestock producers treat health regulations with the same contempt with which they deal with workers and animals.

“Similarly, a decade of urgent warnings by scientists in the field has failed to ensure the transfer of sophisticated viral assay technology to the countries in the direct path of likely pandemics. Mexico has world-famous disease experts, but it had to send swabs to a laboratory in Winnipeg (which has less than 3 percent of the population of Mexico City) in order to ID the strain’s genome. Almost a week was lost as a consequence.

“But no one was less alert than the legendary disease controllers in Atlanta. According to the Washington Post, the CDC did not learn about the outbreak until six days after the Mexican government had begun to impose emergency measures. Indeed, ‘U.S. public health officials are still largely in the dark about what’s happening in Mexico two weeks after the outbreak was recognized.’

“There should be no excuses. This is not a ‘black swan’ flapping its wings. Indeed, the central paradox of this swine flu panic is that while totally unexpected, it was accurately predicted.

“Six years ago, Science dedicated a major story (reported by the admirable Bernice Wuethrich) to evidence that ‘after years of stability, the North American swine flu virus has jumped onto an evolutionary fast track.’…

“Virologists have long believed that the intensive agricultural system of southern China — an immensely productive ecology of rice, fish, pigs and domestic and wild birds — is the principal engine of influenza mutation: both seasonal ‘drift’ and episodic genomic ‘shift.’ (More rarely there may occur a direct leap from birds to pigs and/or humans [as with H5N1 in 1997].)

“But the corporate industrialization of livestock production has broken China’s natural monopoly on influenza evolution. As many writers have pointed out, animal husbandry in recent decades has been transformed into something that more closely resembles the petrochemical industry than the happy family farm depicted in school readers.

“In 1965, for instance, there were 53 million American hogs on more than 1 million farms; today, 65 million hogs are concentrated in 65,000 facilities — half with more than 5,000 animals. This has been a transition, in essence, from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hells, unprecedented in nature, containing tens, even hundreds of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems suffocating in heat and manure while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates and pathetic progenies.”

A versions of Davis’ recent piece is available here.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020 or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167