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Pandemic Ahoy?

Factory farming is back in the spotlight….

The 1975-77 TV Series ‘Survivors’

I’m showing my age here, but I was today reminded of an old British TV series called ‘Survivors‘ that was very popular in the late 1970s (nothing to do with modern reality shows!). It was a bit like Mad Max, but set in Britain, and after a pandemic rather than a nuclear war. The pandemic was, incidentally, a man-made affair. A lab experiment went horribly wrong when a test-tube crashed to the floor releasing a deadly virus. The scientist subsequently spread the contagion around the globe as he flew from convention to convention. Very few individuals survived.

As a child I was of course suitably impressed with the concept of being one of the few remaining children left on the planet, and being able raid toy shops and supermarkets without fear of reprisal. But, it also left me with a bit of a dog-eat-dog impression of basic human need and survival. This show ran during some of the darkest days of the Cold War, where similar results from nuclear bravado were half-expected.

Recently we were all wound up about the H5N1 ‘Bird Flu’. Today it’s the new H1N1 ‘Swine Flu’. Factory farms have been blamed for causing Bird Flu and now the search is on for the source of this latest virus. This BBC clip from today only infers that an unnamed U.S.-owned factory pig farm in Mexico may be on the short-list of potential culprits…. but the Grain article we quote below seems to concretely link it with Smithfield Foods, the same corporation we just brought to your attention in the previous post.

Another thing we know about the swine flu outbreak in Mexico is that the community of La Gloria in the state of Veracruz was trying to get authorities to respond to a vicious outbreak of a strange respiratory disease affecting them over the past months. The residents are adamant that the disease is linked to pollution from the big pig farm that was recently set up in the community by Granja Carroll, a subsidiary of the US company Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer.

After countless efforts by the community to get the authorities to help — efforts which led to the arrest of several community leaders and death threats against people speaking out against the Smithfield operations — local health officials finally decided to investigate in late 2008. Tests revealed that more than 60 per cent of the community of 3,000 people were infected by a respiratory disease, but officials did not confirm what the disease was. Smithfield denied any connection with its operations. It was only on 27 April 2009, days after the federal government officially announced the swine flu epidemic, that information came out in the press revealing that the first case of swine flu diagnosed in the country was of a 4-year old boy from the community of La Gloria on April 2, 2009.

… While it has not been widely reported, the region around the community of La Gloria is also home to many large poultry farms. Recently, in September 2008, there was an outbreak of bird flu among poultry in the region. At the time, veterinary authorities assured the public that it was only a local incidence of a low-pathogenic strain affecting backyard birds. But we now know, thanks to a disclosure made by Marco Antonio Núñez López, the President of the Environmental Commission of the State of Veracruz, that there was also an avian flu outbreak on a factory farm about 50 kilometres from La Gloria owned by Mexico’s largest poultry company, Granjas Bachoco, that was not revealed because of fears of what it might mean for Mexico’s export markets. It should be noted that a common ingredient in industrial animal feed is "poultry litter", which is a mixture of everything found on the floor of factory poultry farms: fecal matter, feathers, bedding, etc. – Grain (entire article recommended reading) (emphasis ours)

This article, just hours old, is also worth a read in this regard.

About Bird Flu in particular, take a look at ‘Bird Flu – A Virus of Our Own Hatching‘. This is a book you can buy, or read online – and is a sobering exposé, showing how our modern centralised agricultural and factory farm systems are putting our health out on a tenuous limb.

I’m starting to wonder if the modern factory farm may have made its ascendancy, just to arrive at the top of a very big slippery slide heading to its own demise (well, we dare to dream, don’t we?).

The thought of a 1918 type pandemic is certainly scary, but the most infuriating aspect of these situations is that it can result in a profit bonanza for the very same people that caused the problem in the first place. During the avian flu scare, fear-induced policy decisions caused a great many small-scale farmers to cull their poultry, either because they were forced to, or because the management requirements imposed on them became too expensive and/or onerous to manage.

At least 15 nations have restricted or banned free-range and backyard production of birds in an attempt to deal with avian flu on the ground, a move that may ultimately do more harm than good, according to Nierenberg. “Many of the world’s estimated 800 million urban farmers, who raise crops and animals for food, transportation, and income in back yards and on rooftops, have been targeted unfairly by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization,” she told participants at the AAAS event. “The socioeconomic importance of livestock to the world’s poor cannot be overstated.”

… Locating large chicken farms near cities might make economic sense, but the close concentration of the birds to densely populated areas can help foster and spread disease, Nierenberg says. In Laos, 42 of the 45 outbreaks of avian flu in the spring of 2004 occurred on factory farms, and 38 were in the capital, Vientiane (the few small farms in the city where outbreaks occurred were located close to commercial operations). In Nigeria, the first cases of avian flu were found in an industrial broiler operation; it spread from that 46,000-bird farm to 30 other factory farms, then quickly to neighboring backyard flocks, forcing already-poor farmers to kill their chickens. The Sietch Blog

It’s tremendously unjust that the ‘little guy’ is suffering due to the unnatural habits of nearby factory farms. It gets worse when you consider that these small backyard operations – which are far healthier and humane – may not recover financially, and their market share will be swallowed by the financially stronger factory farm that caused their bankruptcy. And, significantly, the viability of the low-carbon, more self-sufficient backyard farmer – who makes up a large proportion of the poor in developing countries – is thus seriously compromised, as he must find a way to earn more money, somehow, because he’s forced to buy ‘food’ from the energy-intensive industrial machine.

In a fair world, the enormous flocks and herds of the factory farms would be culled off instead. Oh, wait a minute – keep reading…:

Experts suggest that rather than culling smaller, backyard flocks, the FAO, WHO, and other international agencies should focus the bulk of their avian flu prevention efforts on large poultry producers and on stopping disease outbreaks before they occur. The industrial food system not only threatens the livelihoods of small farmers, it potentially puts the world at risk for a potential flu pandemic. “While H5N1…may have been a product of the world’s factory farms, it’s small producers who have the most to lose,” says Nierenberg.

Intensive animal farming is not only deleterious to human health and economies; it is also responsible for a great deal of ecological destruction. The growing numbers of livestock are responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent). They account for 37 percent of emissions of methane, which has more than 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and 65 percent of emissions of nitrous oxide, another powerful greenhouse gas, most of which comes from manure. The Sietch Blog

Common sense should have prevailed on this topic a long time ago. Putting thousands upon thousands of birds beak to backside in cramped, faeces- and ammonia-laden conditions is not only inhumane, but logic dictates that an unhappy, unhealthy bird is not fit to eat. Combine that with growth hormones, antibiotics and unnatural feed (including GMOs) and this should be seen as outright criminal negligence. Factory farming of pigs is equally inhumane (or worse if the measure of intellect of an animal is any gauge of suffering), and even more disgusting and dangerous in terms of pollution. What more efficient way is there to breed dangerous super bugs and pathogens?

The only time I felt truly comfortable about the food I put on my table was when I lived on the farm and grew most of my own… Now, I live in an apartment in the city, and am dependent on nameless, faceless strangers to grow, process and ship my food. It seems as if unethical and unsafe practices grow in direct proportion to how far we have lost the trail of accountability. So I don’t always trust them to put my family’s best interest over concern for their bottom line. I don’t like feeling helpless, as if every trip to the grocery is a crap shoot – Vicki Williams, columnist, USA Today

It’s kind of ironic that if a pandemic does transpire, it may ameliorate our environmental situation by stopping air travel, collapsing industries, and killing off many of the earth’s most destructive parasite (us). Do we need to go through this process? Do we need to be killed off so the natural world can ‘take a breather’?

At Zaytuna Farm, home base for the Permaculture Research Institute, all animals are treated with dignity and appreciation. Each are essentially ’employees’ that ask little but give much – having an important role to play in the farm system: improving fertility and controlling ‘pests’ (weeds/insects), etc.. The Zaytuna livestock troupe convert potential agricultural problems into win-win solutions. When some are ultimately selected for culling, it is done – being little short of family pets – in the most humane way possible.

Just as our present environmental and economic crises are urging us to re-evaluate the very foundation of our consumer society, may this threat of a global pandemic cause us to reconsider the supposed ‘efficiencies’ of turning sentient, biological beings into, effectively, widgets on a filthy, chemical-based, industrial conveyor belt.

Do Something!: Sign a petition to call on the United Nations World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation to investigate and regulate these farms to protect global health.


As an additional note, the Humane Society of the United States recently revealed a shocking undercover video that exposed what many of us already knew, and what many others don’t want to know…. If you eat meat bought from the standard industrial supply chain (‘machine’), I’d encourage you to take a look yourself. If you want the non-graphic version: essentially workers were filmed pushing sick animals around with forklifts, dragging them by their legs behind forklifts (over faeces laden concrete), beating them, using electric cattle prods on their faces and eyes and water-boarding them.

Viewer Discretion advised – the two clips below are definitely ‘meet your meat’ type presentations….(not recommended for children…):

Warning: Extreme Animal Cruelty Video

And for good measure, below you’ll find ‘Earthlings‘, a feature-length documentary narrated by Joaquin Phoenix (of Gladiator fame, amongst others), also featuring music by the platinum artist Moby. The documentary examines man’s relationship with the creatures he profits from. Earthlings uses hidden cameras and never before seen footage to chronicle the day-to-day practices of some of the largest industries in the world, all of which rely entirely on animals for profit. You will see that this man-animal relationship is the business partnership from hell.


  1. First it was the COW FLUE, then we had the CHICKEN FLU, then we had the PEANUT FLU, Now we have the PIG FLUE! Its pretty clear this is by design, Next will probably be a FRUIT FLUE! Im over watching the news in general. I will take my chances just doing my best to spread Permaculture to people who will listen and stop even paying attention to how the goons are going to try and shut down our ability to maintain our own foods.

    Each FLUE is followed by regulations that make it harder for the little guy not for the large farms. The verdict is in in my eyes..

    Peace People

  2. I agree, Bill Mollison even said you should only spend a little time, very little, dwelling on the negative. It is there, we know it, we can fix it. Start taking your “Host Defense” though,, get it while you can. We have the solutions, implementation is key know. Peace and power to permaculture.

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