Food factories help viruses spread and evolve

What makes us so susceptible to pandemics, asks Sunita Narain, editor of the Indian science magazine Down to Earth. The answer, she says, is linked to the way we produce food.

The influenza A(H1N1) virus is not transmitted to humans by eating pork, that much is now known and said. But what are the origins of this virus, winging across our air-travel interdependent world? Why is this question never asked?


Yes. The current pandemic is linked to the way we produce food—in factory farms, via vertically integrated business. Experts say the global food industry, like the global banking industry, is too big and out of control. It needs to be fixed.


Take swine flu—now renamed. We know it started in La Gloria, a little town in Mexico. We know a young boy suffering from fever in March became the first confirmed victim of the current outbreak, which, even as I write, has claimed some 42 people and affected 2,371 in 24 countries. What is not said is this ill-fated town is right next to one of Mexico’s biggest hog factories, owned by the world’s largest pig processor, Smithfield Foods. What is also not said is people in this town have repeatedly protested about water pollution, terrible stench and waste against the food giant.

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