American Society For Nutrition

Nutrition and the Swine Flu

Nutrition and the Swine Flu

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Posted on 05/20/2009 at 07:24:03 PM by Student Blogger

No..I don't have a tail (or swine flu) yet....but let's be kind to the little piggies that do.

By: Rebecca K.


For photo:
Copyright © 2009 The Humane Society of the United States. All Rights Reserved.

I had just returned from the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) meeting to my current home in Cuernavaca, Mexico (~45 minutes from Mexico City), at the Mexican National Institute of Public Health (INSP). INSP is unlike any institution in the United States; most notable is its direct working relationship with the Ministry of Health.  Had the swine flu news come out earlier, perhaps I would have stayed in the US.  Instead, I shrugged off the flu frenzy (because I never get sick) only to learn that ‘healthy young adults' may be most at risk.

Thus began my self-inflicted prevent-swine-flu-hibernation, concurrent with the countrywide school closures.  Meanwhile, INSP sent an email requesting volunteers to help with swine flu research in Mexico City.  With a sound public health system and widespread health coverage, I was confident about the situation in Mexico (knowing these likely were not reasons why more Mexicans were dying from the flu, something that remains a mystery).  Yet, from family, friends, and colleagues back in the U.S., I was confronted with skepticism and misconceptions regarding both Mexico's handling of the swine flu situation as well as their public health system in general. Thankfully, Dr. Julio Frenk, current Dean of Harvard's School of Public Health (and past Minister of Health in Mexico) wrote a poignant New York Times op-ed.

There are speculations that the swine flu originated from the largest hog farm in Mexico owned by the American company Smithfield Farms. Of course…it was only a matter of time, I angrily thought.  Animal and human rights consequences aside, the industrial farm animal production system, often through concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), has immense public health consequences. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labels a farm a CAFO based on its [large] size (e.g. a ‘medium hog CAFO' has 3,000-9,999 hogs) and how they handle waste. A farm can ‘lose' the CAFO label by stating it does not dump animal waste (i.e. “pollutants”) directly or indirectly (e.g. via a ditch) into U.S. waters. However, CAFOs have not been around forever. In the 1980s, most North Carolina pig farms, the densest pig population in North America, had fewer than 100 animals. Yet in 1985, Smithfield Farms received, at the time, the largest fine in history ($12.6 million) for violating the U.S. Clean Water Act by dumping hog waste into the Pagan River near Smithfield, Virginia. Meanwhile, CAFOs became the norm of livestock farming in America. By the late 1990s, CAFOs made up more than 99% of North Carolina's livestock farming industry. In CAFOs, livestock (e.g. pigs) are given antibiotics to accelerate growth  and to prevent disease propagation--antibiotics that we very likely may consume through meat and water. In 1994, following the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Smithfield opened a large hog CAFO in Mexico, where it was free of U.S. regulators and waste-management regulations. And in 1998, the first detected triple-reassortment [swine] flu strain, containing genetic material from swine, humans, and birds and highly related to the present strain was identified on a North Carolina hog factory farm. 

Remember the spinach, tomato, peanut butter, and, most recently, the pistachio recalls (all foods grown in the ground to feed us)?  From CAFOs, an enormous amount of animal feces ends up in [U.S.] groundwater, by which water-borne bacterial and viral pathogens infiltrate our food system (e.g. Salmonella, E.coli). Consequently, causing large-scale preventable public health and food safety scares. The zoonotic transmission of swine flu and the increasing prevalence of [antibiotic-resistant] MRSA, which subsequently become harder and harder to treat,  illustrate that closer and tougher regulations on CAFO animal waste disposal are not enough. And that what is needed for the sound health of both animals and humans all over the world is a transition away from CAFOs [back] to smaller-sized ‘family farms'.

If you like pork and bacon, you will let Smithfield do its thing. Family sized farms cannot meet the demand for pork products, and you won't be able to afford your nice breakfast spread anymore. Like you said, it's only speculation that Smithfield was the source of the swine flu (which people shouldn't be making a fuss about in the first place). The common flu kills 50 times as many people per year. I guess that's not a big deal though. Animals are living in crowded and unsanitary conditions somewhere south of the border.

You have to really be careful these days. I specialize in mrsa treatment and cases of staph infection are up over 2000% in the last decade and the mrsa bug has evolved itself to become so much stronger than in recent years, it is often resistant to even the strongest antibiotics.

Antibiotics are not working with the staph infection super-bug anymore, this is a major problem that this country faces in the next several years as the problem only seems to be getting bigger by the day.

These antibiotics are not working with the staph infection super-bug anymore, this is a major problem that this country faces in the next several years as the problem only seems to be getting bigger as time goes on.