As Eastern Shore Sanctuary cofounder pattrice jones reports on her blog, SuperWeed, World Health Organization officials have warned that the deadly swine flu epidemic centered in Mexico has the potential to become a pandemic. That’s because the virus is transmissible between humans and has proved deadly to formerly healthy adults. While this has been called “swine flu,” the influenza virus responsible is actually a chimerical mutation including DNA from avian, swine, and human flu viruses. Read Michael Greger’s report, Swine Flu and Factory Farms, to understand how this came to be.
People are understandably worried. Virulent influenzas like this can cripple economies and communities by killing their most productive citizens. The 1918 influenza pandemic, which was caused by exactly this kind of virus, killed millions worldwide. In some cities, bodies were stacked in the streets because the young adults who would usually care for and bury others were the ones dying.
People want to know what to do. The pork industry is eager to tell them: “Keep on eating pig meat.” Public health officials are focused on arresting the immediate spread of the disease rather than addressing its etiology. Their message is, appropriately: “Wash your hands. Cover your mouth when you sneeze.” Unless animal advocates step up, nobody’s going to say: “Quit being the market for the products responsible for this crisis.”
People want to know, “Can I get swine flu from eating bacon?” Our answer should be, “Yes!” While swine flu is not transmitted by bacon or any other kind of meat, eating bacon, pork chops or even chicken wings creates the circumstances that lead these chimerical bird-pig-human viruses to evolve and flourish.
Tuberculosis. Measles. Smallpox. The influenza pandemic of 1918. The ongoing AIDS emergency. All have their roots in zoonoses — animal-based diseases. How do we get these diseases? By confining, hunting, and butchering animals. According to Plagues and Peoples by William McNeil, “Most and probably all of the distinctive infectious diseases of civilization have been transferred to human populations from animal herds.”
Furthermore, factory farming — which crowds thousands of animals together in unsanitary conditions — has led to an upsurge in the evolution and virulence of novel viruses such as the swine-bird-human flu virus at the center of the current crisis. As Michael Greger reports in his extraordinarily well-researched book, Bird Flu (free full-text available), “Since about 1975, previously unknown diseases have surfaced at a pace unheard of in the annals of medicine —more than 30 new diseases in 30 years, most of them newly discovered viruses.” The genesis of these new diseases is almost always zoonotic, tracing back to either factory farming or habitat destruction.
Animal advocates have a unique opportunity to seize on concern about pig flu to educate the public about all of the ethical, environmental, and public health hazards associated with factory farming in particular and meat consumption in general. We call on vegetarian and animal advocacy organizations to seize the day, spread the word, and widely share any handouts or other materials used to do so.
This message was brought to you by the “Education Center” side of the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center. There are big changes on the horizon at the sanctuary, including relocation to a larger and more sustainable property and expansion of the research and strategic analysis services we have provided to the animal advocacy movement. Watch for announcements and please give generously, as we will not be able to make these moves without support.