Residents of Mexico City take precautions against the Swine Flu.
Swine flu, pig farms, & piggish politics
-- Rabbi Arthur Waskow
There is a lot more to the swine flu outbreak than a virus
and a vaccine: There is, surprise surprise, a
First of all, the press in Mexico has been reporting that
swine flu may have originated in the factory farming of pigs
by Smithfield Foods (the world's largest pork packer and hog
Smithfield has a major plant in Mexico -at Perote in the
state of Vera Cruz, where the outbreak originated. The
operations, grouped under a Smithfield subsidiary called
Granjas Carrol, raise 950,000 hogs per year.
The Vera Cruz-based paper La Marcha wrote this headline:
"Granjas Carroll, causa de epidemia en La Gloria."
The Mexico City daily La Jornada has also made the link --
saying that the Mexican health agency IMSS has acknowledged
that the original carrier for the flu could be the "clouds
of flies" that multiply in the Smithfield subsidiary's
Please note that although the Mexican press was on this
aspect of the story instantly, it took one full week into
front-page coverage of the epidemic for any major
American newspaper to report the possibility that factory
farming might be be implicated in swine flu. Was this an
index to the flaccid journalism ion general, or to the
power of the meat industry? (In President Obama's most recent news
conference, he even used an esoteric medical name for the
virus to avoid mentioning the connection with pigs.)
There is also another political link. When the Stimulus Bill
("Recovery Act") came to the floor of Congress, it included
appropriations of almost a billion dollars to prepare for a
possible flu pandemic. But Karl Rove organized Republicans
to demand that this money be taken out of the bill, and when
Senator Susan M. Collins of Maine agreed to vote down a
filibuster against the bill, one of her demands was that the
pandemic appropriation be stripped out. It was.
Somehow the notion that health is more than a private
personal concern, that it involves the whole community and
indeed the whole planet, has escaped the attention of some
who call themselves "conservatives."
There is a reason that we speak of people "hogging "
everything for themselves, or eating "piggishly." It is
about ignoring the needs of others and seeking to gobble up
the world's abundance for the benefit of a few. That kind of
greed is at the root of the impoverishment of the middle
class, the bonuses of hundreds of millions of dollars for a
small group of bankers, the willingness of Big Oil and Big
Coal to burn the world for their own profit, and the
willingness of the last US government to lie, torture, and
kill for the sake of controlling great pools of oil.
It is a remarkable irony that this kind of piggish politics
may have helped create the swine flu epidemic --- no Amos or
Jeremiah could have framed this burning joke more
brilliantly than sheer reality has. But pork is not the
only destructive version of factory farming.
Almost a year ago, when the Postville debacle showed the
destructiveness of present immigration policy, The Shalom
Center also pointed out that the oppressive behavior of the
Rubashkin owners toward both workers and animals was based
on the effort to make super-profits out of factory farming.
The torture of animals and the oppression of workers
followed as a matter of course.
Factory farming of cattle also produces methane, a
planet-heating gas even more potent than CO2. (It causes 1/7
of the global-scorching effect, according to the UN's food &
So from many standpoints -- human health, climate healing,
decent treatment of animals, and justice for workers --- we
should be reducing meat consumption and restoring humane
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