Treat the Causes Along with the Symptoms

Like the Bird Flu outbreak, and Mad Cow before it and subsequent panics that came with them, the sudden arrival of Swine Flu onto the world’s stage is directly related to how we treat and raise animals for human use.

It’s no surprise that as factory farming techniques dominate meat production practices, allowing for mass production and low costs, that disease and infection cross-overs between animals and humans become more common. This latest outbreak of a mutated animal disease should be a warning that our current animal farming practices cause grave harm all for the sake of the bottom line.


Several sources are already scrutinizing the role factory farming has played in this latest flu outbreak. Mexican officials are examining and testing samples as to whether pigs in local factory farms were the source of the outbreak. While the hog industry denies any connection to the outbreak, as the UK Guardian reports Mexican health officials already hold suspicions that a Granjas Carrol farm facility is linked to the outbreak of swine flu and similar symptoms in the nearby town of La Gloria.

This is not the first time that factory farming has been called into question regarding its practices and the potential effects on human health and local environments.UK Greens politician Caroline Lucas has highlighted the pandemic risk posed by intensive poultry farming when concerns over Avian Flu emerged.

A deadly strain of swine flu first emerged in the late 1990s that cut through pig numbers in factory farms across the United States, which according to experts was due to intensive farming practices, i.e. factory farming.


The shocking conditions that animals within these facilities endure are somewhat well known. The inability of the animals such as pigs and chickens to move freely, to turn over let alone follow the natural instincts and behaviour has an increasing awareness with the wider community. Such treatment, many argue, justifies the closure of such farms alone.

Factory farms and the excessive meat production (and consumption) it’s designed to provide pose grave environmental and health dangers that further call into question the continued existence of such practices and associated mentality towards animals and farming.

Industrialized farming ruins the environment, outputting harmful waste products whether its mass amounts of manure and ammonia or toxins from tanneries. Factory farms are very water intensive. The CO2 emissions of the animals raised and the running of the machinery, along with mass transport costs, see meat production create around 30% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.


The inhumane conditions that these animals live breed disease. A University of Minnesota study, referred to in an American Humane Society piece by Dr Michael Greger on the outbreak, found that viruses have ‘more opportunity to replicate and potentially spread’ than pigs raised on smaller farms. Greger also highlights European research that found "Influenza [in pigs] is closely correlated with pig density”. While this appears obvious little action has occurred to change conditions and practices whether on humane grounds or due to health concerns.

If pets were kept in such conditions they would be taken away by the RSPCA and the owner charged. Faeces, poor lighting, cramped and confined conditions all create conditions ripe for infection and the spread of disease amongst animals. The use of antibiotics and steroids in many countries to increase meat yield and counter conditions only produced from factory farming also create viral resistance and mutation. While this doesn’t impact directly on Australian production, the effects are felt worldwide. The desire for cheap meat has moved factory farms to areas of cheap labour and lax regulation, such as Mexico, where communities near pig farms are experiencing the effects of the current outbreak. As Mike Davis writes in a recent article,


Mexico lacks both capacity and political will to monitor livestock diseases and their public health impacts, but the situation is hardly better north of the border, where surveillance is a failed patchwork of state jurisdictions, and corporate livestock producers treat health regulations with the same contempt with which they deal with workers and animals’


Australia is not immune to such factory farming practices and the potential for such conditions. Humans working in close proximity to such conditions increases potential exposure to crossover diseases. The industrialized farming and the abject use of animals across the globe has led to Mad Cow disease, Avian Flu and now Swine flu. A radical shift in our diets, in how we regulate and practice farming and our consideration of other creatures are all required in an age where a globalized world means that the effects of economic downturns, environmental damage and the appearance of deadly disease are felt by all.

While we rush to address the symptoms, we need to also reassess the practices and values that have contributed to its causes. In doing so we might address some of the other problems plaguing the world while we’re at it.



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