Cases of the H1N1 virus are now reported in more than 15 states, in every region of the U.S. According to the London-based Guardian newspaper, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the virus an “international public health emergency.” While media focuses on the Mexican origins of the disease, few in our country are reporting on the suspected link between U.S.-based company Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork packer and hog producer, and the outbreak of the disease.
The current outbreak reportedly started in Vera Cruz, Mexico, the site of a Smithfield subsidiary, Granjas Carroll, which annually raises 950,000 hogs. The first reported case was from Perote in Vera Cruz and involved a five year old boy. According to Mexican press, local residents and municipal health officials believe that “the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste…” Residents of Vera Cruz report that fecal waste from the hog farms is improperly treated and has led to widespread water and air pollution, with “swarms of flies hovering around waste lagoons.”
While Members of Congress pepper Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano with questions about closing the border with Mexico and increasing screening of Mexicans that appear sick, what about the real questions. Was this outbreak sparked by a U.S. company’s corporate practices? If so, is the corporation liable? While the jury is still out regarding the origin of the current outbreak, what is clear is that industrialized agriculture needs review and regulation.
And, as globalization makes our world smaller the need for environmentally sound and people-centered regulatory practices are imperative.