Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pork and Pandemic

The agricultural industry that produces pork has several aspects that should be changed. In the wake of the outbreak of 'swine flu' in an area that has been infesting with industrial pig farms should militate those changes.

When animals are raised in huge quantities in a centralized location, they are kept free from illness by large quantities of vaccine against germs, vaccine which is emitted in many ways by those animals into the surrounding area. Those antibacterial infestations are dangerous to human residents of the area, building resistant strains of existing diseases. In the Mexican area where pig farms have been visited on a populace that has little in the way of medical facilities, the outbreak of H1N1 has shown a potential for dangers the local population may spread on to the rest of us.

"To the people of this community, what brought about this problem was the pig farms," said Guillermo Franco Vázquez, the mayor of Perote, a county seat that has 22 farming communities, including La Gloria, in its jurisdiction. "To clear up this myth -- or to confirm it as reality -- we need more studies."

La Gloria, in the southeastern state of Veracruz, has been at the center of the flu crisis since late March, when a mysterious respiratory illness infected 616 residents, or more than 28 percent of the population. Among them was a 5-year-old boy identified as one of the first confirmed cases of the new virus. The remainder of the cases now appear to have been seasonal flu, according to state health officials.

With the crisis playing out, local residents and officials appear to be increasingly focused on the area's relationship with Smithfield, which operates in Mexico under its subsidiary, Granjas Carroll de Mexico. The conglomerate, which had $11.4 billion in sales last year, has made the Perote Valley a cog in its global expansion, an aggressive strategy that has frequently put the company at odds with the local population.

In 2007, hundreds of protesters blocked a federal highway in an effort to halt construction of a pig farm near La Gloria. Mexican officials say the company responded by pressing criminal charges against five residents who were perceived as leading the demonstration, including a 66-year-old farmer who was forced to sell his corn crop to defend himself. Smithfield has denied any involvement. The case is still pending.

Bertha Crisostomo, an elected La Gloria official who was also charged -- Perote's mayor posted her bail -- said she believes that Smithfield has targeted residents who object to the company's expansion because of health and environmental concerns. Crisostomo said she supports local investment, but added: "Our health is not up for negotiation."

"The only good thing Granjas Carroll has going right now is really good lawyers -- legal representatives who can tie up the people," said Fidel Herrera Beltrán, the Veracruz governor, during an interview in Jalapa, the state capital. "Instead of spending money to go after these people, it would have been easier for them to maintain good terms with the government of Veracruz and its citizens, to make social investments, to open clinics, to reforest the land." Herrera said he was working to get the case against the five La Gloria protesters dismissed.
Large-scale industrialized farming poses a number of health risks, according to a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. They include possible contamination of groundwater and increased risk of transmission of "new or novel viruses" such as swine or avian flu.

"Such novel viruses not only put the workers and animals at risk of infection but also may increase the risk of disease transmission to the communities where the workers live," according to the report.

The towns of the Perote Valley lie on a wide-open plain; high winds whip up dirt devils and cyclones of brown dust. Vicente González, a 60-year-old farmer, said flus are common during winter, when temperatures can fall below freezing, but "for the last seven or eight years, it has become more continuous," he said. "People talk about burning skin and sore throats." (Emphasis added.)

The threat to a local populace has been treated as an irritant by agricultural industries. Their cavalier ignorance may have produced a threat that is growing now, and spreading. Other effects have been observed, and are warning us that we can't throw new elements into the environment without a result that may not be at all desirable for those of us who live in it.

Already, the existence of hormones in industrially produced chicken has produced increased hormone levels in the public, and is suspected to be a large reason for increasingly early puberty in girls.

What our environment can't absorb will effect us in ways we haven't learned yet. Unfortunately, we may be learning some of those effects now.

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Blogger shrimplate said...

I have noticed things are different now: when I drop my child off at school, the 5th graders do not look like the 5th graders I grew up with.

Many of the girls are not flat-chested. In my time, that *started* in 6th grade, then on into middle school.

When I lived in The Dismal Wilderness, the local junior varsity high-school football linemen all weighed over 220 lbs. These were 16-year-olds.

Admittedly these are apocryphal experiences that do not speak for all members of our tribe. But I do believe studies that say children are physically maturing at younger ages than they were just a few decades ago.

6:21 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

I do recall that getting a 'figure' happened in the teen years,just one more confusion. We had it easy, compared to little girls who suddenly have to handle being women.

6:20 AM  

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