Swine Flu Roundup

cartoon of food system deaths

Once again, apologies for the lengthy intermission between posts here at Stuffed and Starved. I’ve been working my next book, which has taken a little more time and travel than I’d have liked. But the results will, I think, be worth it. My most recent research trip involved going to visit the Zapatistas in Chiapas, which means that your intrepid writer has recently returned from Mexico. There are many stories to share, and if you’re in New York, you can hear me talking about it on WBAI tomorrow morning, or at the Brooklyn Food Conference on Saturday.

If you’re not, here’s the roundup of articles that nicely pull the different strands of what’s happening together. If you want the short digest, Laura Carlsen has a fine piece up here.

In her piece, Laura refers to Mike Davis who, with characteristic vim, has pointed out how one of the first casualties of swine flu was the World Health Organization. The global reach of the meat industry has throttled the effectiveness of one of the better international governmental organisations.

Meantime, in Mexico, a few papers are starting to follow the story of where this all started. That story involves a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation in Veracruz, run by a subsidiary of Smithfield. The Guardian has an interview with the child who may be H1N1’s
Patient Zero

So how did a Smithfield meat factory end up in Mexico? Well, that gets us back to the bigger picture. The short answer is “NAFTA”. The longer answer is here.

Some folk point out that the reaction to just over a couple of hundred deaths is disproportionate, when one child dies of malnutrition every five seconds and the more people die of hunger in three minutes than have so far died of swine flu. Which is certainly true.

But that rather misses the point. The drum beat of deaths by starvation, and the shriek of deaths by swine flu, are part of the same score – they’re both signs of the industrial food system’s power. Yes, individual corporations are profiting from creating animal-rearing conditions that are, in every way, unconscionable. Avian influenza, bird flu, was tied to the chicken processing plants of the Asian multinational CP chicken, but precious few lessons were learned from that disaster. That’s largely because the corporations that would suffer the consequences of regulation have crept into the agencies that were tasked to rein them in.

Meanwhile, those who are casualties of the economics that allow these corporations to flourish, those who are displaced from their land in the name of efficiency (and the pork plant in Veracruz that slaughtered 950,000 head of swine a year was a model of efficiency by its own standards) are the ones who suffer the most.

Who is it that’s dying in Mexico City? It’s the poorest, in the worst shanty towns. Who is it that dies from hunger? The poorest, in the worst rural areas. The similarity points to the bankruptcy of the food system. And the long term solution to hunger will also be the long term solution to the kinds of horrors that the food system has once again generated.

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