La Gloria y La Infamia - Globalization and Swine Flu

It's been interesting to see the coverage of the developing swine flu epidemic so far. I am stunned and saddened that the right would use a human tragedy as an opportunity to race bait. None worse or more pathetic than the yapping rabid Chihuahua that is Michelle Malkin who seems to think that porous borders have led to the spread of this virus into the United States. Ms. Malkin will be shocked to learn that the roots of this health crisis are to be found in the septic tank that is globalization.

La Gloria
The short but fatal history of this epidemic can found at Biosurveillance, a website run by James M. Wilson V, MD, an expert in tracking of global infectious disease and in Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever. The outbreak seems to date back to at least February and to a locale called La Gloria, a rural community in the municipality of Perote in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

April 6

Veratect reported local health officials declared a health alert due to a respiratory disease outbreak in La Gloria, Perote Municipality, Veracruz State, Mexico.  Sources characterized the event as a "strange" outbreak of acute respiratory infection, which led to bronchial pneumonia in some pediatric cases. According to a local resident, symptoms included fever, severe cough, and large amounts of phlegm. Health officials recorded 400 cases that sought medical treatment in the last week in La Gloria, which has a population of 3,000; officials indicated that 60% of the town's population (approximately 1,800 cases) has been affected. No precise timeframe was provided, but sources reported that a local official had been seeking health assistance for the town since February.

Residents claimed that three pediatric cases, all under two years of age, died from the outbreak. However, health officials stated that there was no direct link between the pediatric deaths and the outbreak; they stated the three fatal cases were "isolated" and "not related" to each other.

Residents believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to "flu." However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms. It was unclear whether health officials had identified a suspected pathogen responsible for this outbreak.

Local health officials had implemented several control measures in response to the outbreak. A health cordon was established around La Gloria. Officials launched a spraying and cleaning operation that targeted the fly suspected to be the disease vector. State health officials also implemented a vaccination campaign against influenza, although sources noted physicians ruled out influenza as the cause of the outbreak. Finally, officials announced an epidemiological investigation that focused on any cases exhibiting symptoms since 10 March.


On April 15, 2009, the Mexican newspaper La Marcha declared that Granjas Carroll was the likely cause of the epidemic in La Gloria.

Habitantes de la comunidad de La Gloria, ubicada en el municipio de Perote, pidieron la intervención del Gobierno de Veracruz para que gestione ante autoridades federales la inspección de las instalaciones de Granjas Carroll de México, a quienes atribuyen el foco de infección que afectó al 30 por ciento de su población.

De acuerdo con uno de los habitantes de la comunidad, Eli Ferrer Cortés, los desechos fecales y orgánicos que produce Granjas Carroll no son tratados adecuadamente, lo que genera contaminación del agua y del viento en la región.

Ferrer Cortés testificó que en la comunidad se registran fétidos olores en el ambiente y un olor desagradable en el agua, además de una alta población de moscas que siguen los desechos de la empresa porcina.

Por ello, pidieron al Gobierno de Veracruz realice gestiones ante la Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Semarnat) y ante la Procuraduría Federal de Protección Ambiental (Profepa), para que sancionen a la empresa.

Residents of the community of La Gloria, in the municipality of Perote, asked the state government of Veracruz to intercede with federal authorities to inspect the installations of Granjas Carroll, whom they believe is responsible for the infection that has stricken 30% of its population.

According to one of the members of the community, Eli Ferrer Cortés, the organic and fecal waste that Granjas Carroll produces are not treated properly causing a contamination of the community's water and air.

Mr. Ferrer Cortés testified that in the community there are fetid odors in the air and a disagreeable smell in the water in addition to a large population of flies that resides on the refuse of the pig farm operation.

As result, the residents of the community ask the Government of Veracruz petition on their behalf the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) and to the Attorney General for Environmental Protection (Profepa) so that the company face  sanctions.

La Infamia
Chalk up another disaster for globalization and its environmental race to the bottom. Founded in 1994, Granjas Carroll is the Mexican joint venture of two large agrobusinesses - Agroindustrias Unidas de México and Smithfield Foods, the largest and most profitable pork processor in the world. The company's annual revenues top $12 billion USD. The company's growth has been spectacular. Between 1990 and 2005, Smithfield Foods grew by more than 1,000 percent. In 1997 it was the nation's seventh-largest pork producer; by 1999 it was the largest. Today, it accounts for 25% of hog production in the United States. Its growth however is tied to increased US pork exports. Trade agreements have contributed significantly to the phenomenal growth of US pork exports. US exports of pork and pork products have increased over 450 percent in volume terms and value terms since the implementation of NAFTA in 1994 and the Uruguay Round Agreement in 1995. The corporate description of Smithfield Foods from Hoover's Business Services:

When Smithfield Foods waddles up to the trough, all the other porkers stand back. Fat from acquisitions, the company is the world's largest hog producer and pork processor. Its products include fresh and processed pork sold under the Armour, Cook's, John Morrell, Lykes, Patrick Cudahy, and Smithfield Premium names. Smithfield distributes its meats across the US and to about 40 other countries. In a steady effort to stay competitive, the company continues to add to its operations through acquisitions. In addition to pork, the company produces turkey and turkey products through its Armour-Eckrich operations.

On April 26th, Smithfield released what seems a premature press release:

Smithfield Foods, Inc. (NYSE: SFD) stated that it has found no clinical signs or symptoms of the presence of swine influenza in the company's swine herd or its employees at its joint ventures in Mexico.

Those operations are cooperating with Mexican officials to assist it in its investigation of the possible sources of the outbreak of the disease and will submit samples from its swine herds to The University of Mexico for testing.

Based on available recent information, Smithfield has no reason to believe that the virus is in any way connected to its operations in Mexico. The company also noted that its joint ventures in Mexico routinely administer influenza virus vaccination to their swine herds and conduct monthly tests for the presence of swine influenza.

In 2006, Rolling Stone highlighted the problem that is porcine fecal matter.

The 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan. The best estimates put Smithfield's total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year. That would fill four Yankee Stadiums. Even when divided among the many small pig production units that surround the company's slaughterhouses, that is not a containable amount.

Smithfield estimates that its total sales will reach $11.4 billion this year. So prodigious is its fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do -- even if it came marginally close to that standard -- it would lose money. So many of its contractors allow great volumes of waste to run out of their slope-floored barns and sit blithely in the open, untreated, where the elements break it down and gravity pulls it into groundwater and river systems. Although the company proclaims a culture of environmental responsibility, ostentatious pollution is a linchpin of Smithfield's business model.

A lot of pig shit is one thing; a lot of highly toxic pig shit is another. The excrement of Smithfield hogs is hardly even pig shit: On a continuum of pollutants, it is probably closer to radioactive waste than to organic manure. The reason it is so toxic is Smithfield's efficiency. The company produces 6 billion pounds of packaged pork each year. That's a remarkable achievement, a prolificacy unimagined only two decades ago, and the only way to do it is to raise pigs in astonishing, unprecedented concentrations.

That unprecedented concentration is what makes epidemics like the one we are now experiencing possible. The problem is the industrial-scale CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) which produce hogs and hog waste on scale not imaginable.

This story is just developing but expect to hear much much more in the coming days and weeks but two sources to look at are Tom Philpott at Grist and Paula Hay at Peak Oil Entrepreneur. There are also some graphic images of the pig waste at the Granjas Carroll published on the Mexican blog: Suburbio de Imagen.

Tags: Global Health Issues, globalization, Mexico, Swine Flu Epidemic (all tags)

Comments

5 Comments

Re: La Gloria y La Infamia - Globalization and

I have to admit that I expected this diary to devolve into an "I'm scairt uv jurms" pieces, and I was pleasantly surprised.  Animal waste has been a tremendous environmental concern to me for several years because of the damage it does to rivers and lakes.  I've never worried much about potential human disease caused by it--Americans, especially those of us with European ancestry, have a long and proud tradition of consuming animal waste.

In truth, laws regulating the treatment and disposal of animal waste have been in place for decades.  There is no effort made to enforce them.  The business structures render the processors 100% clear of all liability for the damage the waste may cause.  It wouldn't take much to close that liability, but Congress has made no effort to do so.

At the end of the day, enforcing waste treatment would increase the price and therefore reduce the amount demanded.  This, in turn, would reduce demand for grain, 75% of which is feed to animals.  What's bad for the corn belt is bad for America, right?

by SuperCameron 2009-04-26 08:53PM | 0 recs
Re: The Swine Flu Came to NYC

Epidemics will increasingly come from everywhere both inside and outside of the U.S.. There is a serious  threat of emerging infectious diseases that we are facing across the globe.

There are multiple forces at play: a) increase in world population enhancing the chance for transmission of disease b) environmental factors decreasing resistance or make people more suceptible to disease c) drug research on anti-viral and antibiotic medications not keeping up (same is true of vaccines) d) increased resistants to existing drugs for various reasons (ie, over use and behavioral issues e) socio-economic issues. The list can actually go on from there. The point is we will see a lot more of this in the future.

Anyone trying to turn this into an anti Mexican thing is missing the nature of the problem. Diseases are not interested ultimately in politics. We can not really wall ourselves off. Look at the spread of HIV. It took one patient- the so-called patient zero to spread the disease supposedly in its early stage in America. The reality is that by the time we realize that some new disease has entered the population it may often be too late. It's scary, but the reality should push more R and D hopefully by the government. This has been something neglected under Bush's anti science years.

I am hoping Obama was serious about his renewed focus in this area.

by bruh3 2009-04-26 09:50PM | 0 recs
fuck, harvest that methane

surely we can use that shit for some energy. pun absolutely intended

by theninjagoddess 2009-04-27 12:24AM | 0 recs
Thanks for the translation, Charles!

Good stuff. Though if one were to get all hair-splitting, as I did when I wrote about it, one might note that Smithfield's official denial only denied that they had infected hogs. They didn't deny contaminating people's drinking water with hog sewage or breeding a virulent army of flies.

Though they could just be lying about the hog thing.

by Natasha Chart 2009-04-27 10:02AM | 0 recs
Re: Thanks for the translation, Charles!

The growth of Smithfields CAFO operations are really quite striking. And the deadly mix here is that Granjas Carroll was located in a desolate valley in the Mexican state of Veracruz far from any wandering government eye. If you have ever been to SE Asia then you realize why so many flus originate in that area. People live amongst their livestock and in squalor. My understanding of La Gloria is that it is a typical colonia in not so poor area of Mexico but the squalor was imported the day Granjas Carroll came to town.

We need to keep at this. This story is another episode of free market failure and now the clean up costs are prohibitive and global.

by Charles Lemos 2009-04-27 04:45PM | 0 recs

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