Not Swine Flu, Not H1N1 Virus -- Introducing Factory Farm Flu 1

06/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the beginning, there was Swine Flu. As it spread and became more than some remote problem south of the border, the PR machine for Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO's) in general and the pork products industry in particular became concerned. Presto, change-o, we have the more generic sounding H1N1 virus. I think we need a more descriptive name for this pathogen. I hereby dub this bug The Factory Farm Flu 1. Of course giving the number one in the series is less than accurate. Many diseases have been transmitted from animals to humans by CAFO's. But we have to start somewhere and I suggest this be the first in a new naming protocol for these episodes. Besides, it has that catchy alliterative flow.

Corporate meat factories have reason to be concerned. What they are worried about is the story working its way from the blogs to the mainstream press. They don't wish to see stories about the connection between this outbreak and industrial animal production or stories that go beyond this outbreak and call the question about the huge threat to human health that results from this unsustainable method of animal production. This isn't Ma and Pa out back throwing some slop to the hogs and then washing up to come in for dinner. This is a method of producing meat on an industrial scale that generates tons and tons of highly toxic animal waste. Six thousand or more hogs stand cheek to jowl in single enclosed space with huge ventilating fans blowing out air full of contaminants. Workers walk through seas of liquefied feces and urine and then back into their communities.

It is the concentration of farm animals in larger and larger numbers in close proximity to one another, along with the potential of IFAP (Note: Industrial Farm Animal Production) facilities to affect people, that give rise to many of the public health concerns that are attributed to IFAP. Animals in such close confinement, along with some of the feed and animal management methods employed in the system, increase pathogen risks and magnify opportunities for transmission from animals to humans. This increased risk is due to at least three factors: prolonged worker contact with animals, increased pathogen transmission within a herd or flock, and the increased opportunities for the generation of antimicrobial resistant bacteria (due to imprudent antimicrobial use) or new strains of viruses.

This is a story of careless disregard for the health of workers, the public health of communities, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. It defies common sense and demonstrates, at best, an indifference to ethical and scientific standards.

This isn't a new thing, it's not isolated, it's going to continue to happen and it affects public health in more ways than this flu outbreak. When spinach was the subject of a nationwide recall in 2006 the FDA found that the source of the e-coli was cow and pig feces. Environmental organizations, rural communities, farm workers, public health officials and many other constituencies have been working hard for years to address the myriad problems associated with CAFO's. The Factory Farm Flu 1 should be a wake up call for the public at large and it is important that people know that there are many solutions to CAFO pollution and contamination within our existing laws. And a clear need for some better ones.