Speculation is rampant that the swine flu epidemic may be tied to the industrial hog operation run by Smithfield Farms’ Granjas Carroll de Mexico (CGM) at its site that produced 950,000 hogs from 56,000 sows in 2008.
The earliest known case of the virus was isolated to a 4-year old who lives near the operation, which has been the focal point of recent, local protests by residents over water contamination, respiratory infections, and widespread illness in a nearby community of three thousand. While CGM has claimed that none of its employees was sick, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has sent a team to inspect hog farms in the area to determine whether they may be the source of the now-deadly epidemic.
Industrial hog operations are a blight on the land and a scourge to communities. Regardless of whether this particular operation is responsible for this particular flu outbreak, these operations are living, breathing disasters producing fecal stench, fetid air, and foul waters in abundance. And in spite of its website claim that “The way we see it, how we bring you good food is just as important as the food itself. In all we do, Smithfield Foods remains committed to environmental leadership, food safety, employee safety, animal welfare and community involvement,” this company’s record of “corporate social responsibility” is etched primarily in the language of lawsuits it has fought to retain its right to produce at will, regardless of the consequences.
Venture into Sullivan County, Missouri some summer evening when the wind is just right, and the stench from thousands of hogs grips your lungs and wrenches your gut. At its sites in northern Missouri and in Texas, Smithfield’s Premium Standard Farms (PSF) produces some 2.6 million hogs per year from 147,000 sows. And despite a fifteen-year legal battle over environmental and other impacts from its Missouri operation, Sullivan County and its residents still bear the brunt of this industrial operation that churns out hogs like any other factory churns out production. This is no way to feed the nation; this is no way to raise animals; this is no way to steward the environment; this is no way to treat people.
There is no small irony in that word, “steward.” Middle and Old English in derivation, the “sty ward” was a keeper of the sty, the pig pen. Its contemporary connotations breathe of care for the environment, far afield from the corporate keepers of industrial agricultural production that wreak havoc on the land, and on people and their communities. Sty wards and Confinement Animal Feeding Operations (factory farms) do not go together.
Whether this swine flu is definitively hog-tied to GCM, its proximity to the company’s operations—and the protests of ailing area residents that preceded the flu outbreak—ought to give pause to nations now hooked on the addictive allure of an industrial agricultural system that is not sustainable in any manner conceivable. When new disease kills the hogs themselves and wipes out the barns—as it surely will some day—perhaps even the corporations behind the factory farms will take pause. Until then, humans are simply part of the externalized costs of doing business, and the flu is something to get treated by a local doctor, if you can find one and afford to pay the bill.