Effect Measure

Let’s call a swine a swine

While swine flu as a public health issue is starting to fade from the headlines (its true status as a public health issue is another matter), the problems for the pork industry might just be starting. The industry wasn’t well to begin with, and for some of its members, swine flu could be a terminal event, just as with people. Hog prices were very low even before the outbreak and hog futures have declined another 20% since then. This is on top of increased costs related to feed (70% of the cost of production). Even if people can’t get sick from eating pork, pigs are getting sick from being around people. The recent case of the human disease being spread to pigs in Canada could create additional problems of import bans in other countries.

Then there’s the name, swine flu:

“Unfortunately with the association with the name originally, it cast these questions about the industry that created a lot of nervousness with people trying to figure out what the situation is,” said Neil Dierks, Chief Executive Officer, National Pork Producers Council.

“We are striving to the get the message out to everybody that it’s a safe and good, nutritious and healthy product.” (Russell Blinch, Reuters)

Yeah, well good luck with that. The National Pork COuncil and the powerful farm lobby has managed to get the name of the virus changed from “swine flu” to “H1N1/2009,” but it’s not just the name of their product that’s a problem but the whole food industry. From salmonella in peanut butter to E. coli in fast foods and produce, the public has become increasingly uneasy about the safety of the entire food industry. If it were only the name swine flu, they’d probably recover relatively quickly. But it’s more than that.

Pork agribusiness giants like Smithfield Farms and Tyson have a lot to answer for besides having their product’s name being attached to a human pathogen. They are part of a politically powerful industry that has operated cynically, recklessly, without regard for the safety of consumers and their own their workers, or the environmental consequences of their industrial scale animal factories.

You can take the “swine” out of the name of the virus, but you can’t take the swine out of the Boards of Directors.


  1. #1 raven
    May 8, 2009

    Swine flu is still the popular name, no matter what the scientists say.

    It isn’t that anyone cares, just that swine is easier and catchier than H1N1/2009.

    The only way to replace a common name is with something easier to remember and say. Hamthrax and so on are cute but not too accurate and not much better.

  2. #2 GeorgeT
    May 8, 2009

    This can only mean one thing. The McRib will be back soon. 😉

    I read an article a while back talking about how the McRib is only around when pork prices are low….

  3. #3 MoM
    May 8, 2009

    I dunno about that, but the ribs I bought tonight were ridiculously expensive ($4.98/lb) I bought them anyway to smoke for mother’s day (pig fat plus dioxin and all those other carcinogens added by cooking low & slow over smokey hickory… how could you beat it?). Anyway, in this area, where we have [way] more pigs than people, Swine flu isn’t a priority, except as it effects hog prices.

  4. #4 Eadwacer
    May 8, 2009

    I prefer the name used on another site – Bacon Lung Disease.

    More seriously, if the US pork industry can’t survive without using unhealthy farming and processing practices, what does that mean to the consumer? Will we be seeing pork prices higher than beef prices, or will we be importing all our chitlins from China and VietNam? Or will it become a niche product, something like grass-fed beef, or veal? I suspect the answer will drive the public health implications.

  5. #5 paiwan
    May 8, 2009

    1. I have been involving with shrimp aquaculture for 30 more years. One of the problems of shrimp production was destroying mangrove. It has taken two decades from like Green Peace and many NGOs to educate the shrimp farmers to change the bad habit. It was a bit late to learn the lesson. The tsunami hit seriously and damaged the coastal villages due to less mangrove production. Therefore, shrimp industry has been disciplined much well than before.
    2. Poultry has adopted artificial incubation for chicken babies and selected breeding directed at fast growth- totally disregarding the baby’s immunity and ongoing generations’ diseases resistances. The poultry farms are the incubators of virus vectors- where they are located where bird flu will be exploding. The solution looks simple, let the hen hatches babies in natural land and let nature has chance to select and empowers the immunity of babies, the babies are allowed to walk bare feet on earth and pick the natural foods they like. The production costs are slightly higher; nevertheless the protocol will ensure the public health.
    3. Swine flu- basically is very similar to poultry, wrong paradigm and bad science to produce food due to selfish and human egocentricity.
    It is the time to scrutinize the possible husbandry livestock’s viruses-their threats to public health. Effect Measures has been pro-active and I believe that her leadership in exploring this unknown terrain is critical. I will never regret to post this comment; IMHO and acumen.

  6. #6 pft
    May 8, 2009

    Crisis play into the hand of business giants, and this one works for the pork agribusiness giants. The hardest hit are the smaller companies who fail and then the big boys can then increase market share.

    People think large corporations are mainly profit driven. They could not be more wrong. They are driven to increase market share, and will gladly sacrifice short term profits to do so. I am sure some legislation which will include regulations that benefit the pork agribusiness giants is in the pipeline; just like the Food Safety Modernization Act worked for Monsanto, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act works for Mattel and Wal-Mart, and the financial crisis was a godsend for Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

    And you know this swine flu crisis has benefitted pharmaceuticals and vaccine manufacturers.

    Our global corporate government is just one big happy family, gifts for everyone, except the non-elite classes who are paralyzed by corporate government MSM and internet psyops tactics designed to regularly generate fear over one thing or another (otherwise knowns as non-violent terrorism).

  7. #7 Concerned about agribusiness
    May 9, 2009

    Speaking of giant agribusiness and their PR wing, what of the talk that the flu originated in a town near a huge industrial pig operation in Mexico, and that the unsanitary conditions there allowed for the ease of transmission?

    Nice now that they can use their cash to erase the association to the pandemic entirely.

  8. #8 simba
    May 9, 2009

    Paiwan- I’m not sure I understand your second point. Chicks always walk ‘bare foot’, and speaking as someone who raised hens in the manner you described, the losses are very high compared to those of people who use incubators. I now have no hens, as they were all eaten by the fox- this is definitely a risk with free-range hens. Even with breeds which are generally good mothers, chicks are often eaten, stepped on, decapitated etc by other hens (accidently or not), and they’re a prey for any lazy predator for miles around. If they escape that, they can die from exposure when the hen goes around the other side of a fence leaving some chicks behind, and frantically attempts to go through the fence for several hours. Then there’s the diseases which can occur when you use such a system with a large number of hens- the land gets polluted after a while, and large areas with a lot of rotation would be required. It’s easier and safer to just incubate the chicks.
    How does it negatively affect their immune systems? Aside from the obvious, that hens will kill a sick chick.

  9. #9 raven
    May 9, 2009

    I now have no hens, as they were all eaten by the fox- this is definitely a risk with free-range hens.

    I understand his/her point. Modern agribusiness is a breeding ground for new diseases and drug resistance. This flu is preloaded with drug resistance to amantadine/rimantadine. This is common with flu viruses these days. The usual explanation is that farmers are using these two drugs to keep flu viruses down in their flocks. Which leaves us with two drugs, both hitting the same target, neuraminadase. When Tamiflu and Relenza stop working, then what?

    To be sure, it isn’t simple. There is 6.7 billion people, not all of them rich, and they have to eat.

    Where I lived back in the dark ages, there were and still are coyotes, bobcats, cougars, bears, raccoons, skunks, and several large raptors hawks and two species of eagles. And owls. Supposedly there were foxes as well but the coyotes seemed to keep them down.

    People still kept chickens but you had to use fencing and bring the flock in at night.

  10. #10 paiwan
    May 9, 2009

    simba: “Chicks always walk ‘bare foot’, and speaking as someone who raised hens in the manner you described, the losses are very high compared to those of people who use incubators.”

    I. Let me make my point more clear: bare foot walk on the earth ground in comparing to bare foot walk on the cement/disinfected ground are different. Of course, chicks have no shoes. :-)

    2. No need complete free range rearing cycle; only a period for the chicks to grow on natural environment, perhaps 5-10 days with hen. Well protected area is not costy to equip. The loss will be some naturally; it is intentional to allow the process of natural selection active in your poultry. Let the chicks eat natural earth and foods which could help its immunity programming. I have good experiences in shrimp life cycle, for poultry I just feel that the existing protocol has to be modified- FAO need to facilitate the safe production system for the safety of human public health.

    3. Bird flu in relating to poultry is not deniable. If we don’t do right in pig farming, H2H virus will be moderated somehow by pig farms and we can not take this risk. And we should not take this risk if we can prevent in advance.

    It looks risky for chickens and pigs in the beginning, but safer for human community. On long terms, they are safer both for animals and humans. Therefore, we should change now.

    To facilitate the change, the certified label of ecological safety could be given to the initiators. The consumers will pay for it provided that the value of collective safety is justified.

  11. #11 K
    May 9, 2009

    Simba, I have read that chicks may gain some natural immunity from ingesting some of the feces of their mother. Also I have read that early exposure to certain parasites may confer a resistance to them. As Paiwan notes, while baby chicks do die raised naturally, this is part of the natural order of selection. Since we have been raising chicks and stopped trying to save sick ones, we have had less and less of several diseases in our flock. We do not vaccinate but rather let selection provide us with a naturally resistant flock. Industry birds are shot full of vaccines and antibiotics, our birds have none. A dog and an electric netting fence allow us to free range our birds with almost no predation. Last year we didn’t loose a single chick to predators or disease. Besides watching a momma hen raise her chicks is one of the soul refreshing activities that makes human life worthwhile.

  12. #12 Don Williams
    May 9, 2009

    There were news reports suggesting this swine flu may have originated at a point-venture Mexican-Smithfield Ham factory farm: http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/news/state/smithfield-shares-drop-on-worries-about-swine-flu-571867.html

    So I was amused to discover that Smithfield Ham has long been operated by the Lutar family — and that the current Pig Baron is Joseph Lutar III.

    That definitely sounds like the name of someone Hannibal Lecter would feed to the wild boars.

  13. #13 paiwan
    May 16, 2009

    Swine flu virus from pigs closely matches human virus

    By Helen Branswell, Medical Reporter, THE CANADIAN PRESS


  14. #14 paiwan
    May 16, 2009

    99% is not equal to 100% identical.

    According to Neil Ferguson’s computer model, Mexican flu was from Veracruz (La Gloria) in Mid-February 2009. And the estimated TMRCA (The Time of Most Recent Common Ancestor) was January 12, 2009 ( credible interval between November 3, 2008 to March 2, 2009).

    Should a new TMRCA from this incidence of Canadian Swine flu be counted or remained in the one of January 12, 2009.

    My point is 99% is not 100% identical and is a difference.

  15. #15 paiwan
    May 16, 2009

    Apparently we can speculate that climate-particularly the temperature is a factor to make the infection from human to pig. Does anyone know the condition of infection from pig to human?