Tom Philpott over at Grist.org reports on a potential link between a large confined animal feeding operation, or CAFO, owned by Smithfield Foods, a Virginia-based company operating in Mexico, and the first case of the swine flu. This story also appears on CNN.com, where Dr. Sanjay Gupta travels to La Gloria, Mexico, and visits "Patient Zero," the five-year-old boy who had the first confirmed case of swine flu. There are a number of other news organizations also breaking this story.
Right now, the connection between this swine-raising operation and the swine flu is speculative, but more details could surface as investigation into the link continues. For me, reading about many thousands of pigs being raised in confined quarters, in extremely immunosuppressed conditions, with "lagoons" of untreated manure surrounding them and swarms of flies invading the nearby towns - well, it just makes you appreciate life on a small farm, doesn't it?
And, it reinforces the importance of developing small, local, sustainable food systems for our communities, so that threats to our health are diminished. No, small diversified farms are not immune from disease outbreaks. But, they're far less likely to incubate disease if they implement sustainable, ethical and humane practices -- practices that just aren't possible on a massive, industrial agricultural scale. Many small farmers have sustainability as their goal, and this means raising animals in a way that doesn't result in pollution to water and air.
Are you getting nervous about the swine flu? Read some FAQs about the swine flu here and get your questions answered. And go pet your pig!Photo © Thomas Northcut/Getty Images