I flew home from a three-week trip to Mexico on Saturday, returning with a sarong I bought on the beach, some earrings I bought for my roommate and a nice tan. Apparently, some other travelers were not so lucky – carrying with them the swine influenza A (H1N1) virus.
This strain of flu, that has previously kept itself mostly to mammals of the pig variety, has now infected 1,000 people in Mexico and the U.S.. 68 of the reported cases have been fatal. Yesterday, the Secretary of the Department Homeland Security declared a public health emergency in the U.S. Where did this virus come from? Why are humans suddenly being infected with this a previously unseen mutated virus? Why are the pigs trying to kill us?
The cause is not yet known, but many speculate that this deadly virus could be linked to factory farming. When the CDC and the USDA conduct their investigation in Mexico, they will most likely start with the industrial scale pig farms (“confined animal feeding operations” or CAFOs) that have been growing in numbers over the last decade. With the draw of cheap labor and land, American pig conglomerates have been opening up giant swine CAFOs in Mexico, including dozens around Mexico City, Puebla and Veracruz (where the outbreak is believed to have started).
These CAFOs, which raise tens of thousands of pigs at a time, have been hurting the smaller, more traditional farms throughout Mexico and the U.S.. This virus is just another example of the harm that factory farming causes to animals, humans and the environment. And yet, CAFOs continue to grow and the family farms continue to go out of business. How many more deadly viruses, global warming gas emissions, food poisoning incidences or other deadly consequences will it take to change the way we produce our food on an industrial scale?