Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine-flu, round two

The Mexican newspaper La Marcha declared that Granjas Carroll (a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods) was the likely cause of the swine flu epidemic in La Gloria.

Residents of the community of La Gloria, in the municipality of Perote, asked the state government of Veracruz to intercede with federal authorities to inspect the installations of Granjas Carroll, whom they believe is responsible for the infection that has stricken 30% of its population.

According to one of the members of the community, Eli Ferrer Cortés, the organic and fecal waste that Granjas Carroll produces are not treated properly causing a contamination of the community's water and air.

Mr. Ferrer Cortés testified that in the community there are fetid odors in the air and a disagreeable smell in the water in addition to a large population of flies that resides on the refuse of the pig farm operation.

As result, the residents of the community ask the Government of Veracruz petition on their behalf the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) and to the Attorney General for Environmental Protection (Profepa) so that the company face sanctions.

Much of the criticism of Tom Philpott's story is that the connection between swine flu and Granjas Carroll is not substantiated by any facts. That it is speculative hearsay from the people of La Gloria and as Enviroperk commented on Grist:
I am still looking for something stronger than "the residents believe" or stitching together a series of Google hits into a conclusion.
I think we all are, but I don't think it refutes the fact that something is not right in La Gloria and whether confirmed or not, the people of La Gloria are using the outbreak as a cry for help.

Enlace Veracruz212, noted as a 'periodic analysis and investigation' blog in Mexican, posted a story yesterday that paints the story of what happens when corporately owned factories move in to rural areas: environmental destruction and human rights violations in the name of job creation. The pictures are not for the light of heart. Loosely translated:
The waters of "Carroll" will cause pestilence gullies (that) seeps into the ground. We do not know if (for) 600 jobs created by the Americans (Smithfield), the government of Fidel Herrera Beltrán is willing to poison a 30 thousand of its citizens.

No longer content with having destroyed the chest of Perote, but until now the "dissidents" imprisoned in the Porfiriato.

Among the arrest warrants, which is identified as the main "harassment of the public" a Ms. María Verónica Hernández Arguello and other brave citizens of various communities of the Valley of Perote, also involving journalists who were to testify to their means of pollution on what causes "Carroll of Mexico." For this reason the governor promotes advocacy for journalists?

Will there be a divine right to ride roughshod over Americans on our soil with the help of Miramon?

En la laguna, un cerdo muerto en descomposición
From Stephen Foley at the Independent:

A team of UN veterinarians is arriving in Mexico to examine whether this new deadly strain of swine flu, mixed as it is with genetic material from avian and human strains, could be lurking in pig populations undetected. Smithfield says none of its pigs are sick but the company has sent samples for testing.

Victor Ochoa, the Xaltepec manager, ensured employees washed down cars coming into the plant yesterday and made journalists from the Associated Press shower and don protective clothing before entering. In common with his bosses back in the US, Mr Ochoa insisted that all 15,000 animals had been properly vaccinated, that the plant met all the required health standards, and that the vast swimming pool of faeces – industrial pig farming's toxic by-product – was covered with a lid to limit the exposure to the outside air. "What happened in La Gloria was an unfortunate coincidence with a big and serious problem that is happening now with this new flu virus," he said. La Gloria residents, though, have been protesting against the farm for months.

Starting in February, one in six of the 3,000 residents reported health problems. The government initially dismissed the spike as a late-season rise in ordinary flu, but by April, health officials sealed off the town and sprayed chemicals to kill the flies that residents said were swarming about their homes.

I have read many responses that this is not a food issue. Really? This is absolutely a food issue. The practices implemented to feed the appetites of the West (and growing world) are unsustainable and destructive at the expense of the developing world. Sure pork may be 'safe to eat,' but does that make it 'okay' to eat. Given the known (and now mounting) information of the destructive nature of CAFO's (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) to the water, soil, rural communities, and animals themselves at what point will we draw the line? This is THE food issue.

One of the best responses I have seen is "Why the Smithfield-H1N1 question matters" again from Paula at Peak Oil Entrepreneur.

I'll end with the quote of the day from Smithfield president and chief executive Larry Pope.
"We are very comfortable that our pork is safe. This is not a swine issue. This is a human-to-human issue."

Well said Larry.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swine-flu outbreak, Smithfield link?

I just got home from the opening of Food Inc., a documentary that pulls back the veil of the industrialized food system. Repeatedly mentioned is the danger in the consolidation of the meat industry. Could the recent outbreak of swine-flu be connected to industry practice?

The World Health Organization has declared the swine flu outbreak a "public health emergency of international concern."

From the CDC What's New on the Swine Flu (which has email, RSS and Twitter updates)
As of 9:00 AM on April 26, CDC has confirmed 20 human cases of swine flu in the U.S.: 7 in California, 2 in Kansas, 8 in New York City, 1 in Ohio, and 2 in Texas.
According to the CDC:
Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza that regularly cause outbreaks of influenza among pigs. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, however, human infections with swine flu do occur, and cases of human-to-human spread of swine flu viruses has been documented.
Tom Phillpot, over at the Grist has revealed that the outbreak may be linked to Smithfield (Factory) Farms. He was crediting the tip to Paula Hay and her Smithfield coverage at Peak Oil Entrepreneur. The blogger investigative reporting can be linked back further to a Twitter "hat tip" from hyperlocavore.

David Kirby at the Huffington Post also picked up the story:
Large-scale swine producers in Mexico deny that their industry is the source of the deadly new influenza strain, saying the animals are all healthy, and that it is scientifically "not possible" for hogs to infect people with the illness. But lawmakers in the eastern state of Veracruz are now charging that large-scale hog and poultry operations are "breeding grounds" of infection that are making people sick and fueling the pandemic.

The nation's hog industry says it is not to blame for any human illness. "We deny completely that the influenza virus affecting Mexico originated in pigs, because it has been scientifically demonstrated that this is not possible," said a statement issued by the National Organization of Pig Production and Producers and its president, Mario Humberto Quintanilla González.
And the story will continue to unfold.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Squeez Bacon

It's here! Squeez Bacon. What were they waiting for? I can't wait to squeeze bacon on my bacon so I can get all tripped out.
Thanks to ThinkGeek for making America's dreams come true and arteries more compacted, although this looks to be the work of the Swedish!
Product Features

  • Each tube contains 21oz (595g) of Squeez Bacon®.
  • 16 servings - equivalent to 64 slices of bacon!
  • Bottled in Sweden, made from U.S. bred swine.
  • Shelf Life of 12 years.
  • No refrigeration needed.
  • Jätte gott!

Now get Squeeeeezing.

Disney's food follow up

Following correspondence from my favorite Food Sleuth & Dietitian, Melinda Hemmelgarn, the Disney food story began unfolding. Melinda works on media literacy issues, so I knew she was the perfect person to go to to get the 'dig.'

From a PR Associate at Disney:

Disney Eggs were introduced in March 2009 in 2 test markets initially (Florida and New York), and will launch in Colorado in April. Disney Food, a division of Disney Consumer Products, wanted to offer a "better for you" egg that was fun for families with children. Having the quality endorsement of Eggland's Best, with their all natural, all-vegetarian patented hen feed seemed like a great fit. The eggs are high quality-stamped with Disney characters and the collections of characters will rotate every month, to refresh the product.

The Disney Eggs product line consists of Large, Extra Large, 18-pack Large, Disney Cage Free and Disney Organic eggs. All the different versions are currently being offered and were presented to retailers in the 2 markets where the product was launched (Florida and New York). The retailers decide which and how many options they want to offer to their customer base, and currently retailers are only selling the #1 variety, which is Large, and no additional varieties at this time.

Eggland's Best patented hen feed contains healthy grains, canola oil, and an all-natural supplement of rice bran, alfalfa, sea kelp and Vitamin E. The Eggland’s Best hen feed contains no animal fat, no animal by-products, and no recycled or processed food. Eggland’s Best never uses hormones, steroids, or antibiotics of any kind. Eggland’s Best eggs contain ten times more Vitamin E than ordinary eggs, 100 mg of Omega 3, shown to be beneficial to cardiac health, 25% less Saturated Fat, and 200 mcg of Lutein, shown to contribute to eye health.

Kids will love the eggs because of the Disney characters, but parents will appreciate their nutritional value as well so it appeals to the entire family. In 2006, The Walt Disney Company introduced nutritious food guidelines limiting the use of the Disney name and its characters to only those kid-focused products that meet specific limits on calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar. Today, Disney’s extensive food portfolio offers nutritious options in key meal categories including fresh produce, bread, pasta, dairy and baked goods.

In response to the Eggs: I am unsure as to the point of feeding chickens vegetarian feed. Chickens are omnivores and eat insects, worms and vegetation. I guess if we are feeding cows corn we can feed chickens vegetarian feed. I'm just not sure of the marketing tactic. Who cares whether a chicken was a vegetarian or not, beside the ability of the industry to yield to specific product, as is the case with Eggland's Best. My next point is the marketing of "farm fresh." I hope consumers realize by now that this means nothing, much like "natural." However, "Naturally Raised," is a value adding marketing claim regulated by the Agriculture Marketing Service that
"applies to livestock used for meat and meat products that were raised entirely without growth promotants, antibiotics, and animal (mammalian, avian, and aquatic) by-products derived from the slaughter/harvest processes including meat and fat, animal waste materials (e.g., manure and litter), or aquatic byproducts (e.g., fishmeal and fish oil)."
One of the producers of Egglands Best eggs is Morning Fresh Farms which, by looks of their operations, is by no means a small family farm (although family owned). These types of tactics further the agrarian myth that people's food is coming from an idealistic farm with a red barn and roaming cattle. The egg industry is one that is very much industrialized no matter what certifications, claims and programs they put on the carton. Egglands Best does offer Organic and Cage Free Eggs, but I can't even find a picture of a chicken on their website. It reminds me of when I asked a student where hamburgers come from and he replied: "the grocery store." Do we want kids thinking eggs come from Mickey Mouse?

In response to Disney Food: Disney Consumer Products uses their classic Disney characters to market a full line of processed foods, including frozen and dried pastas, baked goods, snacks, novelties, dairy, confectionery, beverages and breakfast foods.
Disney Food, Health & Beauty takes an active role in the development and marketing of a diverse array of quality, innovative products that touch consumers' lives each day. Through new food licensing programs, product reformulations and relationships with leading manufacturers and retailers around the world, the Disney food group offers nutritious alternatives parents approve of and kids love.
Some of my favorites are Mickey Pizza's, Disney Campbell's Spaghetti O's, Disney's General Mills Cereals, and Disney Tummy Ticklers & Bellywashers (100% juice drinks).

While at first glance, it may seem that Disney is promoting healthier foods then the typical commercially processed and advertised foods, I side with Marion Nestle on the point that kids don't need special 'kid-friendly' foods to eat. Should we be inundating kids with more advertising? Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood would say no. I would argue that this contributes to more disconnect between people and food culture.