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Origins of the Swine Flu

The 2009 swine flu epidemic was first isolated by the CDC in two cases in California. Shortly after this, hundreds of cases were confirmed in Mexico along with several deaths. Epidemiologists are currently unsure of where or when exactly this epidemic began, but a look at the genetics of this strain of influenza does provide some clues.

CDC tests of the virus found it to be a mix of flu strains that are common in differing populations: American pigs, Eurasian pigs, birds, and humans.(1) Two days later, scientists from Eurosurveillance claimed the evidence “suggests at least two swine ancestors to the current H1N1, one of them related to the triple re-assortment viruses isolated in North America in 1998.”(2) We’ll come back to this point shortly.

Political Manipulation in Mexican Federal Government

Swine flu is typically just that, a flu that circulates among pigs, but this particular variation has mutated to infect humans. The first case of swine flu, according to mainstream reports like Newsweek’s, was retroactively found by retesting a sample taken from 4y.o. Edgar Hernandez. A previous test had found all cases of flu in the town of La Gloria, Mexico to be H2N3 (the common human flu). When the outbreak spread, this “prompted a second look at his sample” by health officials on April 22nd.(3)

This is cause for concern over possible political manipulation of these tests, given two facts. La Gloria is very near a huge hog factory-farm, which is half-owned by the US corporation Smithfield. Also about one sixth of the town’s residents became ill at the same time, which is extremely abnormal.(4) Had those cases been correctly identified to begin with, we would have had more time to take action and possibly confine this influenza strain.

This story gets worse. Eugene Robinson with the Washington Post claimed on April 28th, “It was a real achievement for [Mexican] authorities to notice a few anomalous deaths and connect the dots.”(5) Newsweek on May 11 praised the Mexican government for “moving swiftly.”(6) Swiftly being a relative term, let’s consider what happened in Mexico well before the California deaths and the hundreds of deaths in Mexico City.

According to La Jornada, one of Mexico’s leading daily newspapers, the first reports of swine flu infection in humans came from Perote, Veracruz, which is ground zero of Smithfield’s factory-farm. In early March Veracruz health officials issued an epidemiological alert as 60% of the residents of Perote were suddenly stricken with the flu, pneumonia, and bronchitis. This alert was ignored by Mexican public health officials at the federal level until April 5th, when sanitary restrictions were finally placed on Carroll Farms, the name of Smithfield’s operation.(7)

As of April 28th, the Mexican public health authorities and Smithfield representatives had stated there was no evidence of circulating swine flu amongst the pigs or human workers, despite the documented evidence to the contrary. They also stated that this was based on tests, but declined to give any information about the testing or who had confirmed them. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) by this date had also sent an emergency animal health team to Carroll Farms. Before doing so, they issued a contradictory and distinctly unscientific statement:

“Today, all the processes we are working on are based on the fact that the crisis is human to human without intervention of pigs. It’s a purely contagious human to human (transmission) and there is no declaration, there is no rumor, there is no identification of flu in pigs. Of course, this has also to be carefully investigated more than it was before…. We hope that it will be confirmed.”(8)

We hope that the facts we know to be true will be confirmed? Shouldn’t anything we call a “fact” have already been confirmed? Smithfield is a multi-million dollar hog operation based in the U.S. that gives generous campaign contributions to the politicians in charge of regulating the industry.(9) Just prior to the FAO team going to Mexico, USAID issued the FAO $5 million in emergency funding. (10)

Factory Farming Viruses

In 1997, Smithfield was issued the third largest civil penalty issued by the EPA under the Clean Water Act, 12.7 million dollars, for spilling millions of gallons of lagoon sludge into Virginia watersheds emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. To avoid EPA fines since then Smithfield has been forced to install sewage treatment on a few of its many massive sludge “lagoons” that hold pig excrement, rotting corpses of baby pigs, syringes used to give antibiotics and vaccines, and other junk that falls through the one inch holes on the bottom of hog stalls.(11)

Smithfield processes 27 million hogs a year and has been responsible for numerous other spills, that were not fined, as well as perfectly legal dumping of waste on fields. Immediately after the passage of NAFTA in 1994, Smithfield opened a major operation in Perote, Veracruz very near the town of La Gloria. Not only do they face no environmental, health, or labor regulation from the Mexican federal government, but Smithfield was allowed to increase their economy of scale. Some 800,000 hogs are processed a year in one compound with no sewage treatment.(12)

You may find this all too incredible, but it actually goes further back and farther north, North Carolina in 1998 to be exact. In 1988 NC had a swine population of two million pigs spread across some 15,000 farms. By 1998, the swine population numbered ten million over only 3,600 farms, with Smithfield holding a major interest. It was CDC researchers, responding to an outbreak of swine flu amongst those farms, that first described the “triple re-assortment virus,” that is a human-pig-bird flu combination. It was only a matter of time, given the density of swine populations and the rapid movement of this virus to swine farms across the United States, before the virus became communicable to humans.(13)

What has happened here is a clear case of industrial farming operations creating disease and politicians, like legislators and CDC Director Richard Besser, ignoring the source while pushing the hype. Public health politicos, from the CDC to the UN’s FAO should be exposed as complicit in the political game to protect the profits of industrial factory farms and to expand the medical bureaucracy. Public health researchers, not politicians but the scientists on the front lines, have been warning about the dangers of over-crowding in factory farms for years to no avail. The lesson for us, if there is one, should be to get ready for the next epidemic, because factory farming of animals is apparently an industry too big to fail, especially as the medical industry piggy-backs off it.


(1) http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17025-deadly-new-flu-virus-in-us-and-mexico-may-go-pandemic.html

(2) http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=19193

(3) http://www.nydailynews.com/news/us_world/2009/04/29/2009-04-29_is_5yearold_edgar_hernandez_patient_zero_mexican_governor_says_so_officials_not_.html

(4) http://www.tucsoncitizen.com/ss/nationworld/115361.php

(5) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/27/AR2009042702694.html

(6) http://www.newsweek.com/id/195692/page/3

(7) http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/21307

(8) http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/library/news/2009/04/sec-090429-voa06.htm

(9) http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/pacgot.php?cmte=C00359075&cycle=2008

(10) http://www.bizjournals.com/birmingham/prnewswire/press_releases/national/Mexico/2009/04/28/DC07253

(11) http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/12840743/porks_dirty_secr

(12) http://www.narconews.com/Issue57/article3512.html

(13) http://www.hsus.org/farm/news/ournews/swine_flu_virus_origin_1998_042909.html