<$BlogRSDUrl$> The Cyberactivist

Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.

Friday, January 16, 2004

When Will We Learn? Will It Be Too Late? 

You know, I have been reading so much in the news lately about disease in factory farming, but most of the focus on the issue has been on the economics of the problem and downplaying the risk to the public in order to protect the profits and the industry as a whole.

As Eric Schlosser notes in this article, "The Agriculture Department has a dual, often contradictory mandate: to promote the sale of meat on behalf of American producers and to guarantee that American meat is safe on behalf of consumers. For too long the emphasis has been on commerce, at the expense of safety. The safeguards against mad cow that Ms. Veneman announced ...have long been demanded by consumer groups. Their belated introduction seems to have been largely motivated by the desire to have foreign countries lift restrictions on American beef imports."

Now, although BSE has gotten a lot of attention lately, there have been many other problems going on also. I will only focus on the more well-known ones, although they are not the only ones. I'm sure most people are also aware of the avian flu problem they are having in Asia as well as the problems they found with the farmed salmon. If not, I have collected numerous articles on both of these problems.

The best one I have seen so far on the salmon is here, and there was a pretty good article in the LA Times about the bird flu here.

Before I move on, I want to look at this flu situation a little closer. I have been following this whole thing quite closely lately and have read quite a few articles on it. What I have read has been most disturbing, to say the least. Let me give you a few points that I noticed that should be emphasized a bit more.

Besides the obvious worry about how fast and far this disease is spreading, is the underlying fear of a horrible global pandemic. In this article, Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an influenza specialist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, makes some rather upsetting comments:

"The more times that there are outbreaks amongst poultry and the more times that there are human exposures and human cases of H5N1, the more opportunities there are for this influenza virus to mutate to the point where it is well adapted for human-to-human transmission. A pandemic of influenza will make SARS look like a cakewalk in comparison."

She is not the only one worried about this. Richard Webby, a leading influenza virologist based at St. Judes Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., said,

"It's a bad time for this to be happening, It's very, very concerning."
He said this because of the fact that it is flu season and because, although the WHO said that "there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of this strain of influenza," Klaus Stohr, project leader of the World Health Organization's global influenza program, "admitted there may have been 'some very inefficient transmission from human-to-humans. The ingredients are there that the pandemic can occur. We can hope for the best but we are preparing for the worst. '"

Also, this article makes note of the facts that:

"Public health authorities have been predicting for some time that the world is overdue for a new pandemic, which would sweep the globe, killing millions and causing far-reaching social and economic disruption.

The most deadly example of an influenza pandemic was the Spanish flu of 1918-19, which killed between 20 million and 40 million people worldwide.

Recent outbreaks of avian influenza of the H5N1 subtype in South Korea, Japan and now Vietnam - and repeated transmission of the virus to humans -may be laying the groundwork for that dreaded event, influenza experts warned."


Skowronski further said, "The more times that there are outbreaks amongst poultry and the more times that there are human exposures and human cases of H5N1, the more opportunities there are for this influenza virus to mutate to the point where it is well adapted for human-to-human transmission."

Now, the very first sentence in this article mentions that the flu in Vietnam, "may have killed as many as 12 people [and] could be the precursor to an influenza pandemic."

And, it goes on to point out that

"WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said the organization is investigating a total of 14 suspected cases of bird flu in humans in Hanoi and surrounding provinces. All but one of the cases were children. Twelve of the 14 cases -- including 11 children -- have died.

But some of the infections date back to late October, a worrisome sign. The longer bird flu is in contact with humans, the greater the chance it will acquire the ability to spread among them.

And WHO is aware that these 14 cases may not be the entire iceberg.

"There is a concern that there could be more cases out there, both in humans and in chickens," Thompson admitted, saying the WHO has asked other countries in the region to be on the lookout for "any unusual patterns of death in chickens or humans, influenza-related."

For a pandemic to occur, a strain of influenza which has never before circulated among humans has to break out of nature and develop the ability to spread not just from animals to humans, but from human to human as well. Virtually no one would have any real immunity to such a virus, meaning it would spread like wildfire around the globe, rendering huge numbers of people sick. Such widespread illness and death would cause massive disruption to the health-care system and would tax the ability of governments around the globe to maintain essential services, experts predict."


Then, it goes into the two ways that this could happen:

"through a chance mutation that would give it that skill, or by what's called reassortment. If a person who was sick with a human influenza virus also became infected with the H5N1 virus, the two could swap some genetic material, and a new and deadly human virus could be formed."

But, on reading further into this in a bit more technical article, Daniel Perez, Ph.D., assistant professor of virology, University of Maryland, College Park (Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine) has explained this a bit more. Indeed, he notes:

"It has been good for us that avian influenza viruses have difficulties transmitting from human to human, but in my opinion, it's just a matter of time. There have been more incidents of avian influenza going to humans in recent years. Through different agricultural practices, humans have altered the ecosystem of many animal species, including poultry and swine, which have resulted in the creation of optimal conditions for the emergence of novel influenza virus strains. With worldwide poultry and swine production going up, the chances for another influenza pandemic appear imminent."

Apparently, the WHO is launching a full-fledged probe into this because of the seriousness of the threat. This article makes note of the facts that:

"In most pandemics, animals such as chickens, pigs or even cows have played a role in creating deadly new strains of influenza viruses for which humans have no immunity...The danger is when a new virus can cross from person to person. Animals play a key role here because they become breeding grounds for new strains of flu that contain changes in the genetic structure that the human immune system cannot recognise.

According to the science journal Nature, flu viruses originate in wild birds and are thought to become lethal when they cross into poultry or pigs. In cells infected with another flu variety, the viruses pick up genes that enable them to infect humans.

This can also happen, it is thought, in cows."


It only gets worse from there on...

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, pigs can be infected with human and avian influenza viruses in addition to swine influenza viruses. Infected pigs get symptoms similar to humans, such as cough, fever and runny nose.

Because pigs are susceptible to a variety of flu viruses, they potentially may be infected with viruses from different species, such as ducks and humans, at the same time. If this happens, it is possible for the genes of these viruses to mix and create a new virus.

In Vietnam, hundreds of pigs have also died of flu.

Dr Veronica Chan, head of the microbiology and parasitology department at the University of the Philippines' College of Medicine, said on Wednesday humans would have no protection against a new strain of flu.
"We should worry. It kills. It kills," she said.

Scientists say major flu pandemics occur every 30-35 years. The deadliest in the past century was the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19 that killed between 20 million and 50 million people worldwide, including 500,000 in the United States. The exact source of this virulent strain is unknown but is thought to have been wild birds.

The virus behind the last major flu outbreak, the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968, is thought to have originated with wild aquatic birds such as ducks. Nature journal reported last year that the next killer influenza strain might leap directly from ducks to humans.

Influenza strains in domestic ducks have already acquired genes from poultry viruses, researchers found, and may have the potential to invade human cells.
"It's getting closer to one that can spread," said influenza expert Robert Lamb of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in a June 5, 2003, report in Nature.

The viruses, known as H9N2, probably jumped from wild birds into poultry, swapped genes with influenza strains there, and then migrated back into ducks, Nature said.


While some scientists are worried about the public safety issue when it comes to contamination and disease in the public food supply, it is clear that governments and the industry are only looking to protect their profits. This article notes that:

Viroj Na Bangchang, president of the Consumer Force Association of Thailand, yesterday accused the government of covering up the deaths of as many as 50 million chickens from a fowl disease that may have been bird flu...He claimed large numbers of dead chickens had been quietly disposed of this month to avoid public panic.

"It may affect tourism and chicken exports. We have to be willing to accept that," he said. "The truth must be told. I don't think the government is telling the truth."

Viroj submitted a petition to the House committee on consumer protection yesterday calling for action over the mass deaths of chickens.
Senator Somkiat Onwimon said yesterday a cover-up of the mysterious disease had continued for two months and that almost 20 provinces had been affected.


Why would they cover this up? Well, the article says, "Thailand is the world's fourth largest chicken exporter, according to government figures."

How are they explaining all these dead chickens that people are finding out about? "The Agriculture Ministry, which says changes in the weather cause mass deaths of chickens at this time of year, said on Wednesday the recent deaths were caused by diarrhoea and bronchitis."

I even saw an article that said the officials over there said that it was only "cholera and respiratory problems." Yeah. Right.

Sounds like flu to me. Anyway, they intend to inspect all their farms to "prove" that they are free of the flu. And they have to do it quickly. After all, "Japan and the European Union are Thailand's key buyers of Thai poultry products, which bring in more than $1 billion a year...Singapore imposed a partial ban on imports of live and frozen chicken from Thailand on Thursday."

They couldn't have that, even if people are getting sick and dropping dead. No one knows much about this - even the scientists admit that they don't know it all. That is the scariest thing about it.

Now, let me take this even further.

In this article, WHO "says there's no evidence to suggest people should stop eating chicken." However, they make a little disclaimer when they say this, "This is a bit of a young science, we can't say many things with certainty. But it does seem that the virus, when it's spread to humans, it seems the virus is spread through chicken faeces. There is no evidence to suggest that eating chicken is a danger to health, although as I say, there's a lot of work to be done on what's happening here."

Now, here is where I started really worrying about this. You see, I know for a fact that meat is contaminated with fecal matter. If the fecal matter is what spreads the disease, then it seems safe to assume that the germs are being passed down to consumers through the meat they eat. Look at all the trouble we have with things like E. coli, salmonella, etc. Where do you think those germs and diseases come from?

Readers that have seen my early entries in the archives (that are full of my personal experiences) will remember me talking about the extent to which the workers on back dock are exposed to fecal matter (among other things). We had the stuff all over us - literally from head to toe. You may even remember me talking about the fact that it gets in your mouth when you do this work. You can't avoid it. You will get chicken shit in your mouth - even swallow it - if you do that job. That is an inescapable and unhealthy fact, as is the fact that you walk out of there with a certain amount of it still adhering to your skin, clothes, and hair. Of course, there are other things, too - the blood, feathers, etc. that get on you, too, after standing there all night long on back dock. All of these things can carry disease and contaminate everything they touch, including the people (and yes, even the public - we were even asked not to let the public see us before we got all cleaned up so that they would not be upset by seeing the nastiness we worked in and thus, that their food was processed in).

Then all these workers leave the plant and go into the public to go home. Most even stop at a store or two on the way home. Can you imagine how fast this would spread through an area, even if it only happened in a small out-of-the-way plant like the one I worked at in Grannis? What about those bigger plants in more populated areas? And what about the feces left on the meat when it goes to the stores or the fast food places? If the feces left on the meat after processing can carry E. coli or salmonella, wouldn't you think it could carry the flu? And wouldn't it be even more dangerous in concentrated form for the workers in the industry and those they came in contact with?

If you want to see some really upsetting info on this, then read this page to see how bad the fecal contamination problem is, especially with regard to E. coli. It's nasty is what it is.

Now, just imagine if you were to substitute the word E. coli on that page with the word "Superflu." It goes from just being nasty and dangerous to being extremely scary and extremely dangerous - on a global scale. Why are we worrying about bio-terrorists contaminating the food supply when we have the factory farming industry doing that job so well?

If you eat meat, then you eat shit.

It is that simple. It may be irradiated shit, cooked shit, or whatever, but there is no doubt that meat gets contaminated very badly through modern factory farming practices.

Of course, they like to try to shift the blame onto the consumers when they get sick for not washing their food properly or letting meat touch a cutting board or something, as opposed to making sure that the food they sell is safe to eat and free of disease. If meat was safe to eat, then why do we have all these warnings on handling and preparation? We didn't used to have to worry about that kind of stuff. We used to be able to eat our meat without it being well-done and cooked to a certain internal temperature.

On that last page I referenced, it makes note of the fact that

A series of tests conducted by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, discovered far more fecal bacteria in the average American kitchen sink than on the average American toilet seat. According to Gerba, "You'd be better off eating a carrot stick that fell in your toilet than one that fell in your sink."

Now, that's just wrong, don't you think?! We shouldn't have to wash shit off our food before we eat it! It should never be there in the first place if they are doing a proper job. But, if all the diseases weren't bad enough, now we have to worry about a flu pandemic. I guess my post on the "Superflu coming to you" wasn't so far off, huh???

Then, to top it all off, I see today on MSNBC here that "The influenza vaccine that many Americans clamored for this year was not very good at protecting people against influenza, colds and similar viruses." In fact, it had "no or low effectiveness against influenza-like illness,” according to the CDC. So, if you ran out to get a shot, you probably wasted your time. People seemed to get sick anyway, since they couldn't predict exactly which strain would come out.

Doesn't give you much hope that they would be able to stop a flu pandemic like the one discussed above, does it? What about BSE? Same thing. They are more worried about the industry and its profits than they are about the safety of the public. After all, we still feed animals to animals, even knowing the dangers. And we do this because of the money that the industry saves. Here is a good article on this problem that has both sides giving their point of view.

The point I am trying to make here is: What is it going to take before we realize that we cannot keep on allowing the industry to do business the way that they currently are? Even though most people support paying a few cents a pound more for safer meat, it doesn't happen. There is too much money at stake for the industry and the government to admit that there even exists a safety issue. We have been bombarded with messages from the industry and the government - standing side by side, just about hand-in-hand, telling people not to worry - to go ahead and consume, consume, consume.

The sad thing is that most people do. They believe the propaganda of the industry as fact and call all factual evidence that points to problems "propaganda." The industry and the government have conspired to make sure that this is so. The facts speak for themselves and are extremely hard to dispute, no matter what kind of an expert you find to debate on the industry's side of the issue.

Exactly how many times do animal products have to be proved unsafe? And in how many ways? What will it take to reach the average gullible consumer?

When will we learn?

Hopefully, it won't be after it is too late. (crosses fingers...and toes...)
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