Environmental Causes of the Swine Flu Epidemic

An origin point for a swine flu outbreak may have been discovered. (Photo: SGr/Shutterstock)

Grist Magazine just found a source that may now link the swine flu epidemic to water pollution from a Smithfield Foods hog operation in Perote, Mexico in the state of Veracruz.

Veracruz is ground zero for the epidemic, which some fear may turn into a global pandemic. As of this weekend, the bizarre strain of influenza (which incorporates swine, avian and human viruses into one Frankensteinian viral monster) has been detected in New York, California, and Australia, and it has all but shut down Mexico City. Over 100 people have died.

Perote, the site of one of the largest hog operations on the world, is home to Smith subsidiary Granjas Carroll where 30% of the population has now contracted the virus. The speed of infection and the fact that it attacks younger, healthier individuals has the World Health Organization very worried.

In an article in the Vera Cruz paper La Marcha the following statement is made:

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 region.

As translated by Tom Philpott of Grist Magazine, "According to one community resident, the organic and fecal waste produced by Granjas Carrol isn’t adequately treated, creating water and air pollution in the region."
American-owned Smithfield Foods slaughters approximately 27 million hogs per year (don't click on this link if you have a weak stomach) -- about a million of which are slaughtered in the Granjas Carroll facilities.

According to residents, complaints have been filed against the company for its mismanagement of runoff from the hog farm, which has polluted their municipal water supply.

Though the mismanagement of the hog operation seems primary to blame for the outbreak, it is also important to note that last year the Wildlife Conservation Society issued a statement that linked climate change to the development of new and potentially lethal influenza strains, particularly new strains of the avian flu. Changing weather patterns are resulting in overpopulation of insects which then carry the disease from bird to bird.

I recommend subscribing to the Veratect twitter feed. Veratect is one of the world's leading Biosurveillance services and is providing breaking updates on the flu epidemic.

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