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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Nightline On Industrial Farming

by tristero

I'm working my way through all the links in farmgirl's terrific post on "Swine Flu, NAFTA and U.S. farm subsidies." But I wanted to share with you a link she provided to a pretty good Nightline report on industrial pig farming including footage shot in La Gloria, Mexico, where, apparently, the earliest cases of the swine flu outbreak were reported and which lies some 12 miles away from a hug industrial hog farm owned by a Smithfield subsidiary. For those, like Digby, who were horrified by an earlier post of mine that quoted descriptions of the disgusting conditions on these farms, don't worry. The Nightline report shows nothing that will sicken you. Unless, that is, you realize that that beauty shot of a pond is not a pond of water.

Several commenters have objected to my refusal to accede to the wishes of corporate pork production and euphemize swine flu by calling it something else. Their argument is that calling swine flu "swine flu" harms small, independent pork producers. Farm Girl, who has studied food issues closely and certainly cares deeply about small, independent farming, agrees with me:
...Mexico's swine flu (and keep calling it that, no matter what the National Pork Producers say...)
In responding to the objections, I also posted several links to scientists' discussion of swine flu that make the point that the term is accurate (go here, here, and here, for example. ) In comments to my previous post, Glen Tomkins writes:
Long-established practice in the field is to characterize strains of Influenza A first and foremost by which species it attacks. Thus we have avian (or bird) flu, swine flu, horse flu, dog flu and human flu.

There are other ways to characterize a given strain, such as by which type of the two antigenic glycoproteins it displays, and by this scheme, this swine flu is H1N1, and the avian flu of recent concern is H5N1.

But characterization by the animal of origin is the more basic and informative classification, and the HxNx name should be used as the primary name only if we're talking about a strain of human flu. The animal vs human flu distinction is the most basic and informative because strains of flu adapted to animals other than humans tend to behave very differently in humans than strains adapted to us. The animal strains tend to cause more severe illness and death, because of some combination of our not being well-adapted to them, and their being not well-adapted to us. A microbe that uses us as its meal plan does not want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,and tends to do so only insofar as it hasn't "learned" any better by long practice at adapting to us. But these animal strains also tend to not spread as readily among humans, presumably because that trick, much like not killing us, also requires adaptation to our peculiarities.

So it's "swine flu", not because we have it in for the porciculturists among us, or even because "swine flu" is a sexier phrase for CNN to use than "H1N1 flu", but because that's the way the nomenclature works, and works most effectively to convey important differences in expected disease behavior that calling it "H1N1" would fail to convey.

It strikes me as exceedingly weird to insist that we describe the agent of a potential pandemic with a pretentious, and less accurate, euphemism. To do so at the insistence of powerful corporations because it might hurt their profits is simply outrageous. Again, regarding the argument that no, it's not the big guys who will be hurt, but rather the small pig farmer -well, the real danger to small pig farming is not an ignorant and transient association - eating pork products, even disgusting industrially "raised" pork products can't give you swine flu, obviously - but rather the predatory, illegal, immoral, unhealthy, and downright repulsive practices of Smithfield and their ilk, who have consolidated production and ruthlessly driven many small producers out of business.

On a personal note, several commenters said my previous post sounded like a rightwing blogger. Since I started blogging, I've been called, usually in a tone of severe accusation, a communist, zionist, anti-semite, faggot, hetero, atheist, christian apologist, asswipe, moonbat, ignorant, know-it-all, elitist, low-life, and many, many more things. I can only respond:

Just don't care call me an upstart! No man or woman lives who can call a tristero an upstart!