30 April 2009

Agricultural Policies Increase Swine Flu Risk

Two items in today's news point to factory farming - born and fostered by our rampant consumption and others' greed - as the chief cause of outbreaks like swine flu. From Macleans:
The Mexican press is reporting that locals in the hometown of Edgar Hernandez, the four-year-old boy who may be the first person to have caught the illness, say a pig farm is to blame. The town is home to a Confined Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) that is 50 per cent owned by Smithfield Foods Inc., the largest fresh pork and packaged-meat company in the United States. Residents claim that the flies that swarm in the CAFO’s open-air lagoons where the pig manure is stored have caused a high rate of respiratory infection in the town.

Reports of illness in the community have long gone unreported, as Blind Man With A Pistol so eloquently points out in this post. Why, he asks, have so very few articles taken up the cause of the Mexican victims or reflected "the grief shared by the affected communities"?

We must curb consumption. We must change our agricultural policies, such as those in BC, if we are to reduce the risk of widescale outbreaks.

In a media release issued today, the BC Greens make this point, stressing the importance of policies that encourage, not discourage, small-scale, local, organic food production.
“All a pathogen like swine flu needs in order to mutate into a dangerous form is overcrowded conditions. Genetic uniformity found in most industrial agriculture, makes the process more rapid,” said Wayne Osborne, BC Greens’ candidate in the Parksville-Qualicum....

“Agricultural policies that restrict traditional methods have increased the crowding of hogs and poultry. Industrial-grown animals are so genetically uniform, they might as well be clones. For health reasons, we need to move away from large-scale operations that create disease conditions and re-introduce genetic diversity into our food supply."

BC Greens’ Agriculture Critic and candidate in Nanaimo, Dirk Becker added, “This is a prime example of what is wrong with our system on a grand scale - where the health and safety of humans and animals aren’t the most important things, but rather short-term profit.

“Animals are more than just a commodity, and their food and living conditions help them to develop natural resistance to sickness and disease. That includes breeding to maintain genetic diversity, so that when there is disease, only a portion of a population is affected. This current outbreak is not only to be expected, but inevitable when you use such unnatural means of meat production, breeding only the biggest, fastest-growing pigs for rapid profit.”

No one is saying that small-scale farming is devoid of risks. Anything humans do comes with risk, especially where profit comes into play. But certainly supporting local food production reduces risk.

We must move to change our agricultural policies NOW.

Ergo, in this provincial election vote accordingly.

And vote for BC-STV. Only with a system which properly reflects voters' concerns can undercut the moneyed interests which ultimately control our current politics.

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