Photo via Sustainability Ninja
I was dismayed to hear that Oprah was helping to push KFC's free chicken promotion. Wasn't quite sure why, initially—after all, 'free food for everyone' is generally a pretty positive notion. But then I recalled that KFC buys its chicken from Tyson—one of the US's biggest factory farmers and perpetrator of shady health practices. And then I remembered that Oprah herself did an expose on the cruelty of factory farms , essentially condemning them. And then I realized that the ploy couldn't have come at a worse time: US factory farms have been confirmed to have played a role in the origin of swine flu. It's long been known that factory farming, at the very least, presents animals with unseemly living situations—if not downright cruelty. It's also widely believed that the practice fosters the spread of disease in animals, and in some cases, humans. Case in point: the US Center for Disease Control has confirmed that the current swine flu (H1N1) has its origins in a strain that grew out of a factory farm in North Carolina years ago.
A preliminary analysis of the H1N1 swine flu virus isolated from human cases in California and Texas reveals that six of the eight viral gene segments arose from North American swine flu strains circulating since 1998, when a new strain was first identified on a factory farm in North Carolina.
So in effect, Oprah is publicizing a company that not only condones cruelty to animals, but relies upon an institution that's partly responsible for the development of serious diseases like swine and avian flu. I know that Oprah isn't specifically endorsing factory farming—and especially not swine flu—but by vocally supporting a massive company like KFC that's built on the practice (and a number of other un-green ones, for that matter) she validates it.
Inside a factory farm. Photo via Farm Sanctuary
Again, it definitely feels curmudgeonly to cry foul at the person who wants to give everyone free food—but it must be pointed out that the free food comes from inhumane, and potentially dangerous environments. And for someone who was PETA's 2008 Person of the Year, it's a little surprising the connection between KFC and factory farming was overlooked (or was ignored).
The point isn't that Oprah screwed up--it's that we should all be more aware of the practices that lead to the food on our table (or in the takeout window). Even though the swine flu turned out to be relatively mild and is now winding down, we should recognize the possibility that another pandemic could occur down the line if we don't note the causes--and work towards supporting a more sustainable, more humane manner of food production.
More on Swine Flu
3 Ways You Can Help Prevent Another Swine Flu Outbreak
Swine Flu: Past, Prevention and Future