Friday, May 1, 2009

Play The Swine Flu Blame Game!

Folks on the far right, which appears to be the entire Republican Party these days, have turned the swine flu pandemic into an opportunity to vent their racist spleens:
“No contact anywhere with an illegal alien!” conservative talk show host Michael Savage advised his U.S. listeners this week on how to avoid the swine flu. “And that starts in the restaurants" where he said, you “don’t know if they wipe their behinds with their hands!”

And Thursday, Boston talk radio host Jay Severin was suspended after calling Mexican immigrants "criminalians" during a discussion of swine flu and saying that emergency rooms had become "essentially condos for Mexicans."

Meanwhile, Neal Boortz got all conspiracy-theory-ish:

"[W]hat better way to sneak a virus into this country than give it to Mexicans? Right? I mean, one out of every 10 people born in Mexico is already living up here, and the rest are trying to get here. So you give -- you give -- you let this virus just spread in Mexico, where they don't have a CDC."

Hmm, yeah, sure that makes a lot of sense.

There’s plenty more out there for anyone who wants to look. Blame the Mexicans! Blame the immigrants! And by all means, blame the Democrats!

Gosh y’all, this looks like fun! Can I play the Swine Flu Blame Game, too? How about blaming factory farms run by American corporations?

Is Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork packer and hog producer, linked to the outbreak? Smithfield operates massive hog-raising operations Perote, Mexico, in the state of Vera Cruz, where the outbreak originated. The operations, grouped under a Smithfield subsidiary called Granjas Carroll, raise 950,000 hogs per year, according to the company Web site.

On Friday, the U.S. disease-tracking blog Biosurveillance published a timeline of the outbreak containing this nugget, dated April 6: [...]
Residents [of Perote] believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to “flu.” However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms. It was unclear whether health officials had identified a suspected pathogen responsible for this outbreak.

Surprisingly, we've heard very little about this in the media. That may be changing; NPR reported this morning that Smithfield is half owner of the pig farm at the epicenter of the swine flu outbreak.

From their web story:

Townspeople blame their ills on pig waste from farms that lie upwind, five miles (8.5 kilometers) to the north. The toxins blow through other towns, only to get trapped by mountains in La Gloria, they say. They suspect their water and air has been contaminated by waste.

Granjas Carroll de Mexico, half-owned by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, Inc., has 72 farms in the surrounding area. Smithfield spokeswoman Keira Ullrich said the company has found no clinical signs or symptoms of the presence of swine influenza in its herd or its employees working at its joint ventures anywhere in Mexico.


But residents say they have been bothered for years by the fetid smell of the farms. Local health workers intervened in early April, sealing off the town of La Gloria and spraying to kill flies people said were swarming around their homes.

Naturally, when the press arrived to tour the Granjas Carroll de Mexico pig farm, there wasn’t a fly in sight. But the locals say the farms were cleaned up for the media’s arrival.

I’m no scientist and I have no idea where swine flu comes from, but it’s clear to me that factory farms of all kinds are not healthy for people, animals or the environment. I’m convinced factory farming is to a large degree responsible for the rise in salmonella and E. coli contamination we’ve seen over the past 20 years. It’s the free hand of the market run amok in our food supply, where profits rule and people and animal welfare take a back seat to the almighty dollar.

So before we blame immigrants for the swine flu, maybe we should blame the emigrant: corporations like Smithfield Foods who have exported their toxic factory farming practices to countries like Mexico where the rules are lax and no one will complain except a few poor villagers.