You only ever hear the word "swine" when the pigs are not worth eating. Swine flu must be serious; it’s killed one thirtieth the number of people that malaria kills every day. Nonetheless, this virus has spread from an edible animal to humans and then human to human.
Should I be surprised that the media takes an infectious disease more seriously when it threatens the bacon supply rather than people somewhere tropical and poverty-stricken? Food blogging is marginally to blame for the (mostly) American obsession with bacon; and maybe this in turn is affecting the perception of the severity or risk of the virus.
So how did it get in pigs in the first place? David Kirby in The Huffington Post points to the move of factory farming of American pork in "concentrated animal feeding operations" or CAFOs to Mexico:
In the last several years, U.S. hog conglomerates have opened giant swine CAFOs south of the border, including dozens around Mexico City in the neighboring states of Mexico and Puebla. Smithfield Foods also reportedly operates a huge swine facility in the State of Veracruz. Many of these CAFOs raise tens of thousands of pigs at a time. Cheaper labor costs and a desire to enter the Latin American market are drawing more industrialized agriculture to Mexico all the time, wiping out smaller, traditional farms, which now account for only a small portion of swine production in Mexico.
"Classic" swine flu virus (not the novel, mutated form in the news) is considered endemic in southern Mexico, while the region around the capital is classified as an "eradication area" - meaning the disease is present, and efforts are underway to control it. For some reason, vaccination of pigs against swine flu is prohibited in this area, and growers rely instead on depopulation and restriction of animal movement when outbreaks occur.
U.S. and Mexican epidemiologists and veterinarians will surely want to take swine samples from Mexican CAFOs and examine them for the newly discovered influenza strain (No one knows exactly how long it has been in circulation). And though it is too early to know if this new virus mutated and incubated on Mexican hog CAFOs, the industrialized facilities unquestionably belong on the list of suspects.
At the moment there is no link between pork consumption and the swine flu but there may be a link between the virus and industrial pork production.
For all of America’s profound obsession with bacon, China both consumes and produces more pork than any other nation. As a result of the viral outbreak, the Chinese Government has now banned the import of Mexican, Texan, Californian and Kansan pork products. So is it just a convenient outburst of protectionism or the shape of the future of pork?