Pig ‘Flu Farms’ Threaten Global Health
After dominating the news for weeks, swine flu has started to take a backseat to other concerns. But health officials have not forgotten that the 1918 flu pandemic first appeared as a mild outbreak in the spring and then mutated to the form that infected a third of the world’s population and killed millions of people in the United States alone. Crowded pig farms likely led to the emergence of the new H1N1 swine flu virus, and they create the perfect breeding ground for this and other unstable viruses to mutate into even deadlier forms.
In May, PCRM placed a digital ad in a Washington, D.C., Metro station urging U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to shut down intensive pig farms to reduce swine flu risk.
One-third to one-half of pigs on modern farms have antibody evidence of influenza viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On massive pig farms, intensive crowding and poor sanitary conditions allow viruses to replicate and mutate rapidly. Once a viral mutant emerges, it is spread by farm workers and the transport of livestock.
In a letter to Vilsack, PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D., pointed out that leading health experts have expressed concerns about factory farming. Five years ago, the American Public Health Association called for a moratorium on new factory farms. Last year, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production cited numerous public health issues associated with factory farms and recommended the phaseout of intensive confinement on farms.
The average American now consumes more than 200 pounds of meat a year, including a significant amount of pork. A collective shift to a vegetarian diet could help eliminate the farms that breed infectious disease.