Smithfield Foods, Incorporated is the world’s largest industrial pork producer and processor. Its headquarters are in Smithfield, Virginia. Operations are in the US, Mexico, Romania, Poland, UK, China and Europe. The company raises 14 million pigs a year and processes 27 million. The company produced 5.9 billion pounds of pork and 1.4 Billion pounds of fresh beef in 2006. The Granjas Carroll de México (Mexico) Operation has been suggested as a potential source of infection.
Smithfield has, historically, come under criticism for storing millions of gallons of faecal matterial,untreated, in holding ponds. In a four year period, in North Carolina alone, 4.7 million gallons of Swine faecal matter were released into the State rivers. Workers and residents near those Smithfield plants have reported health problems.Complained about constant, overpowering stenches. In 1997, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million for violation of the federal Clean Water Act. That fine was the third-largest civil penalty levied under the act by the EPA. It amounted to .035 percent of Smithfield's annual sales.
The Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City (March 16-22 2006) showed that the international debate about water and sanitation is at crossroads. Little has been done to change that. According to Luis Hernández Navarro, many World Bank loans to Mexico have had as a condition the privatisation and full cost recovery of water. Cost recovery refers to the elimination of government subsidies and the increase in consumer payments for access to the service. This means that operating entities in charge of providing drinking water must cover all the operating and maintenance costs through fees to customers. Importantly, an operating entity might not be just a private company.
The most recent Law of National Waters, passed by the Mexican Congress in 2004, was a substantial step toward the privatisation of infrastructure and supply of drinking water. The World Bank declared, "the new legal framework constitutes a unique opportunity to deepen the reform process..." "...the new legislation fine-tunes the mechanisms to achieve the population's exclusion from the decision-making process regarding water policies and management, to transfer it to large businesses," responds Hernández-Navarro.
AquaFed (a lobby group controlled by French water multinationals Suez and Veolia) claimed that private water operators "contribute to making the Right to Water a reality every day". It is in this environment, of the private industrial hoarding of faecal material and the scramble for profit, that the Mexican Flue outbreak has occured. The environment in which it is assumed that those who pay will get clean fresh water and those who do not will not. This ignores the fundamental commercial problem: people with inadequate water supplies get sick and sick people make other people sick.
During the past three decades, the US Center for Disease Control notes that animal production in the United States has become increasingly specialized with farms functioning as links in the chain of animal production, housing and feeding.In 2003, the nation’s 238,000 feeding operations produced 500 million tons of manure. This is the Kind of material stored by Smithfield. Residents in areas surrounding Concentrated Animal feeding Operations (CAFOs) report nuisances, such as odour and flies. In studies of CAFOs, CDC has shown that chemical and infectious compounds from swine and poultry waste are able to migrate into soil and water nearby. Scientists do not yet know whether or how the migration of these compounds affects human health. Pollutants possibly associated with manure-related discharges at CAFOs include a long list.
Antibiotics: which may contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant patSwineens. PatSwineens: such as parasites, bacteria, and viruses, which can cause disease in animals and humans. Nutrients: such as ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorus, which can reduce oxygen in surface waters, encourage the growth of harmful algal blooms, and contaminate drinking-water sources. Pesticides and hormones: researchers have associated with hormone-related changes in fish.
Solids, such as feed and feathers: which can limit the growth of desirable aquatic plants in surface waters and protect disease-causing microorganisms. Trace elements: such as arsenic and copper, which can contaminate surface waters and possibly harm human health. Researchers do not yet know whether or how these or other substances from CAFOs may affect human health. Therefore, CDC supports efforts to address these questions.
Clearly the outbreak illustrates the interaction between Global Capitalist practices and the Developed Nations. Capitalism cannot command and control viruses and bacteria. By polluting with antibiotics and nutrients, industrial production - not only of food - creates an environment in which new diseases will evolve. It is not a negotiable point about "evolution versus religion" but an observable fact: evolution is new diseases. It is not a negotiating point around "factory farming is bad for animals" but recognition that the industrial mode of production is the flaw, not its specific application to animals. Given the Banking Industries desires to make money from water ownership and the Industrial Production of 4.7 Million Tonnes of Swine faeces, the disaster is entirely natural and entirely inevitable. Living things do not really read policy documents or trade agreements. Viruses travel wherever they can reproduce.
The natural tendency to reproduce is one thing. Being contained in Mexico would reduce a potential pandemic to a localised epidemic. The difference for public health in a globalised world is air travel. Mexico has millions of people passing in and out on a daily basis through air travel: ASUR 16.2 million across 9 airports Cancun (11.3m), Merida (1.3), GAP 23.6 million across 12 airports Guadalajara (7.3m), Tijuana (4.7m), Puerto Vallarta (3.1m), San Jose Del Cabo (2.9m), Hermosillo (1.3m), OMA 14.2 million across 13 airports Monterrey (6.6m), Culiacan (1.1m), Acapulco (1.1m) Mexico City (AICM) 25.9 million passengers last year. A total of almost 80m visitors on 2008 figures. One visitor ever half second enters or leaves. Given the rate of arrival and departure, there is a good chance that one or more people will carry the virus. An immediate quarantine of Mexico would have been, economically, unthinkable. It remains so. Nobody wants to pick up the cost of Public Health, least of all Private Investors. As a consequence, the localised epidemic is being rapidly globalised by market forces with little time for Publicly Owned Public Health Services to respond with the viral samples that allow the production of a working vaccine.
The combination of farming, water, air travel, and public finances created the economic situation of the outbreak. It may well have happened anyway. ironically, those in a position to make biggest profits - the Pharmaceutical Companies - might well be the most innocent. Their role is simply to exploit the opportunity presented by the potential of pandemic. While that might well be inexcusable to many, it is not at the causal end of the situation. The private manufacture of vaccines will, undoubtably, extend the outbreak. But the vaccine needs the outbreak to happen before it is made.
The process is, in principle, simple: take live virus, incubate, then kill it. Dilute it down and inject. It is the same principle as Jenner used with pox. First, the live virus is required. There is a global network for obtaining samples and distributing them to public health authorities. If that can be done quicker than the outbreak spreads, then the total impact is reduced. Public Health in a global village means that - regardless of the economic impact - quarantine of entire countries would work to slow the spread while a response was developed.
Capitalism does not have Public Health as a priority. It is too "diffuse" to obtain a profit. It is too "low yield" to achieve good results. By concentrating the Public Health into Polyclinics and huge out of Community Hospitals, then delivering a series of packaged processes, profit is possible. But at the risk based cost of health in the wider community. The problem of global climate change compounds the need for awareness and appropriate, accurate, targeted responses to Public Health issues. The splitting of Public Services into separate walled gardens of profit goes agains this.
Finally, there is the Media. With the potential for Public Demonstrations - globally - in the Workers' month of May, a good scare story serves to distract from other issues. The combination of a need to sell vaccine and access to advertising or PR budgets helped to create the 1976 Swine Flu scare
This manufacturing of public life and consent is not unusual. Nobody is denying the existence of Swine Flu, simply pointing to the context. By managing the media, the Swine Flu demon is, already, being used to marginalise protest and the capacity of the general population to recognise the need for changes and to demand those changes. The Media, in a search for decent copy, has latched onto the collected press releases of a wide range of "policy" institutions. Yet the media is not relating the Public Health Issue to the Political and Policy Issues. It is in the best interests of those concerned - Industrial Farmers, Water Privatisers, Air Carriers and so on - for excessive scrutiny to be diverted.
The Media response is both hysterical and promotes hysteria. Swine Flu is dangerous, but any pandemic was avoidable by early Public intervention in private businesses. The Media provide a clear way to avoid that argument from being made clear. After all, advertising pays and the proprieter does not want to lose revenue.
The media can look at the above narrative and say it all seems like some vast, overarching, conspiracy while there is really nothing to it. There is no conspiracy - unless the greed of bankers and businesses can be called a conspiracy. There is no conspiracy - unless business practices and failure to consider anything other than profit is a conspiracy. If there is no conspiracy, then there is huge, systemic incompetence in capitalism.