Swine (Now H1N1) Flu, Infant Mortality Rates and Factory Farms

Swine Flu preventionMay 6, 2009: The virus is now being called H1N1 rather than swine flu to stop the killing of pigs.

No pig has been found with the virus yet the Egyptian government, for example, ordered the death of all pigs in the country.

The virus continues to spread among humans. The World Health Organization reports that as of this writing there are nearly 1500 cases in 21 countries. 30 people have died. WHO has raised its alert to level 5, meaning a pandemic is imminent. 

Go here for more information from the Centers for Disease Control. 

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh,; University of Pennsylvania, and  University of Maryland have concluded the virus is actually not a triple or quadruple reassortment of pig, human bird flu genes as first believed. They have said the current H1N1 virus is made up of North American and Eurasian strains of pig flu.

Steven Salzberger, a bioinformaticist from University of Maryland, agreed it was logical that pigs were the initial host. The virus strains combined and mutated and may have spread to humans through waste in water or insects.

CDC researchers as well as those at University of Edinburgh, Columbia University, Princeton University, and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, have confirmed that the North American strain that is part of the current virus can be traced to an outbreak at a hog factory farm in North Carolina in 1998. (Read Animal Law Coalition’s original report below for more on that outbreak and go here.)

It is still widely believed the Smithfield Pork factory hog farm, Granjas Carrol, may have been the origination of this virus. The first cases were reported in the nearby town of La Gloria.

The occurrence is consistent with the 2008 warning by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, as set forth in Animal Law Coalition’s original report below, that intensive confinement of animals on factory farms provides an "increased opportunity" for new forms of virus that would be transmitted between humans. Crowded long distance transports of these animals also play a role.

Original report: As of this writing, in Mexico 152 people are dead and more than 2000 are ill ostensibly from a swine flu outbreak.  There are 50 confirmed cases across the U.S. in New York, Texas, California, Kansas, and Ohio, more than double since last Friday.  

From what can be determined, initially, the outbreak in the U.S. occurred in people who just returned from Mexico or who were close to recent travelers to that country.  In fact, schools closed to try to contain the outbreaks among students returning from trips to Mexico. Travel advisories were issued.  

But the World Health Organization reports the disease has begun to spread beyond recent travelers to Mexico. Other cases are reported in Canada, Spain, France, Scotland, Israel, New Zealand, and South Korea.

This strain of swine flu has not been confined to the very young or elderly but has afflicted people of all ages.  

The World Health Organization has issued a phase 4 alert, meaning there is sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus causing outbreaks in at least one country. It is also a warning of a deadly global pandemic.  Both WHO and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have declared a public health emergency.  

Some Mexican officials and residents are linking the current outbreak of swine flu to Granjas Carrol in Perote, Mexico which is in the state of Vera Cruz. Granjas Carrol operates concentrated animal feeding operations for hogs, CAFOs, factory farms, owned by Smithfield Pork.  

These operations in Mexico alone raised 950,000 hogs for slaughter in 2008. The hogs are jammed together 24/7 with barely room to move. Sows are kept continuously confined in gestation crates where they cannot move, let alone stretch or turn around.  

Biosurveillance reports, "Residents [of Perote] believe[] the outbreak [was]… caused by contamination from large pig breeding farms located in the area. They believe[] that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak".  

Residents have reported terrible odors and swarming flies. According to a local official, the swine flu may have been spread initially by a fly that reproduces in pig waste. Mexico’s Health Minister, Jose Angel Cordova, said the virus "mutated from pigs, and then at some point was transmitted to humans." The chairperson of the Veracruz legislature’s Committee on the Environment, Marco Antonio Lopez, described hog as well as poultry farms as "hot spots" for infection. The legislature has initiated an investigation of Smithfield Pork operations.

Hundreds of hogs that may have had the swine flu have now been killed at a factory farm in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

At least 2 Mexican newspapers, La Jornada and La Marcha, point the finger at Granjas Carroll. 

At this time there has been no epidemiological study linking factory farms in Mexico to this swine flu outbreak. 


In the U.S. cruel, intensive confinement of hogs is also generally legal though California, Colorado, Arizona, Florida and Oregon have banned the use of gestation crates to confine pregnant sows.

The waste from animals held in CAFOs is also untreated; it is typically placed in manure pits, stockpiles or "lagoons" and later spread onto land. In the U.S. it has been reported there is as much as 500 million tons per year of animal waste from these large agricultural operations. 68 Fed. Reg. 7176, 7180 (2003) Substantial quantities of toxic chemicals such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide as well as nitrogen oxide are released from the manure.

In the U.S. the EPA is supposed to regulate animal feeding operations (AFO) and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) through National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.

An AFO means animals are confined for at least 45 days in a 12-month period and there is no grass or other vegetation in the confinement area during the normal growing season. 

A CAFO is an AFO that is designated as small, medium or large depending on the number of animals by type.  A large CAFO is a CAFO because of the large number of confined animals. A medium CAFO is a CAFO not only because of the number of animals but also because:

(1) pollutants are discharged into waters of the United States through a man-made ditch, flushing system, or other similar man-made device; or

(2) pollutants are discharged directly into waters of the United States which originate outside of and pass over, across, or through the facility or otherwise come into direct contact with the animals confined in the operation.40 CFR 122.21, .23, .42, .46; 40 CFR 412.1-47

A small CAFO is basically an agricultural operation that has been designated as a CAFO because it is a significant contributor of pollutants. 40 CFR 122.21, .23, .42, .46; 40 CFR 412.1-47

All CAFOs are supposed to obtain NPDES permits if they discharge or propose to discharge pollutants into U.S. waters as described.  Unpermitted CAFOs can voluntarily obtain a certification that they do not discharge and do not propose to do so.  A nutrient management plan for manure is now required as part of a NPDES permit application. 40 CFR 122.21, .23, .42, .46; 40 CFR 412.1-47

There is no limit on the number of animals for CAFOs.

Enforcement has been largely non-existent or left to the states. But some of these regulations are new, and EPA claims these recent "CAFO regulations will prevent 56 million pounds of phosphorus, 110 million pounds of nitrogen, and 2 billion pounds of sediment from entering streams, lakes, and other waters annually." More and more states have their own regulations partly because EPA rules only apply to discharges in federal waters.

These federal regulations do not address violations of the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. §7401 et seq. CAFOs have been given a pass on Clean Air Act compliance.

pigs in gestation cratesDid animal cruelty help cause this swine flu?

At least one third of the people living in the area of Granjas Carroll currently have symptoms of upper respiratory disease. One child is infected with the swine flu, and authorities are exhuming bodies of other children who have died recently.  

This is also a new strain of swine flu, a reassortment or combination of human, avian and 2 forms of swine flu, American and Eurasian. Unlike previous swine flu outbreaks, this deadly strain appears to be passed easily by casual human contact.

Last year the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production  warned:

The continual cycling of swine influenza viruses and other animal pathogens in large herds or flocks provides increased opportunity for the generation of novel viruses through mutation or recombinant events that could result in more efficient human-to-human transmission of these viruses.

In addition, agricultural workers serve as a bridging population between their communities and the animals in large confinement facilities. This bridging increases the risk of novel virus generation in that human viruses may enter the herds or flocks and adapt to the animals. …

Recent modeling work has shown that among communities where a large number of CAFO workers live, there is great potential for these workers to accelerate pandemic influenza virus transmission.

Pigs cruelly packed together in CAFOs make particularly good breeding grounds for increasingly virulent strains of swine flu. Viruses often jump easily from hogs to humans. In addition to the flies, the recycled wastewater used in many hog CAFOs can increase the likelihood of avian flu genes finding their way into the mix, making the flu all the more virulent as it is then passed to CAFO workers. Birds and people can spread these deadly strains quickly. Also, pigs as well as animal products, including pork, waste, offal and feed are transported the world over, possible carriers of swine flu.  

Dr. Michael Greger, Director of Public Health & Animal Agriculture for the Humane Society of the United States, reminds that the first triple reassortment swine flu virus, a combination of pig, human and avian flu genes, occurred in 1998 at a North Carolina factory hog farm.

It was during the 1990s that small family hog farms gave way to factory farms that now confine thousands of pigs at one time.  

Indeed, a number of experts have attributed these increasingly virulent, deadly flus to intensive confinement of pigs in CAFOs.

Studies point to CAFOs as the source of other, often deadly diseases and abnormalities 

In a recent study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics by Wellesley College Professor Stacy Sneeringer, increases in infant mortality are attributable to CAFOs.

mother and childThe study examined the impact of CAFOs on infant mortality from 1982 to 1997 and found that for a 100,000 animal increase in a county, there were 123 more infant deaths under the age of one per 100,000 births and 100 more infant deaths under the age of 28 days per 100,000 births. As well, the research suggests that a doubling of animal production induces a 7.4% increase in infant mortality.

The reason? Air pollution from ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.

The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production indicated in the 2008 report "[w]orkers in and neighbors of [these CAFOs] experience high levels of respiratory problems, including asthma."

Other studies have found CAFO workers or people living in the vicinity of these factory farms also suffer impaired lung function, sinusitis, bronchitis, headaches and other flu symptoms, diarrhea, burning eyes, depression, fatigue and early death.

This does not include the innumerable diseases and conditions including spontaneous abortion and developmental disabilities, kidney failure, gasteroenteritis, and death attributed to contamination of ground water used for drinking by animal waste from CAFOs. (Not to mention the contamination of waterways from discharges and spills of manure and ensuing death of fish and other aquatic life.)


Clearly, the cruelty and waste of factory farming has raised infant mortality rates, an indicator of a country’s standard of living, and is causing illness, if not death, among people of all ages. Now it may have caused a deadly, global pandemic. 

Agriculture used to be America’s sacred cow, so to speak, the beloved family farm an icon of our culture and history. Now, it has morphed into "agri-business", no longer content to feed America, and instead motivated solely by profit. They profit from animal cruelty and lax or even non-existent regulation that is causing illness and death, not to mention damage to the environment and wildlife. The genious of Madison Avenue has been that they have convinced the public they want to continue to consume pork and other animal  products regardless.


Studies demonstrating illness and death attributable to CAFOs: Iowa State University and The University of Iowa Study Group, Iowa Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations Air Quality Study, at 121 (Feb. 2002); Steve Wing and Susanne Wolf, "Intensive Livestock Operations, Health, and Quality of Life Along Eastern North Carolina Residents," Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 108, No. 3, (March 2000); Kendall Thu, et. al, "A Control Study of the Physical and Mental Health of Residents Living Near a Large-Scale Swine Operation," Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health, 3(1):13-26 (1997), p. 1-11; Susan Schiffman, et al., "The Effect of Environmental Odors Emanating From Commercial Swine Operations on the Mood of Nearby Residents," Brain Research Bulletin, Vol. 37, No. 4, 369-75 (1995); U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "California’s Dairy Quality Assurance Program, Fact Sheet" (September 1999), p. 2; U.S. EPA, The Report of the EPA/State Feedlot Workgroup, Office of Wastewater Enforcement and Compliance, September 1993; "Spontaneous Abortions Possibly Related to Ingestion of Nitrate-Contaminated Well Water-LaGrange County, Indiana 1991-1994,"  Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, Report 26, Centers for Disease Control (July 5, 1996) pp. 569-71.



2 thoughts on “Swine (Now H1N1) Flu, Infant Mortality Rates and Factory Farms”

  1. I always knew these large scale pig operations were cruel to the pigs, but had no idea how unhealthy they were to all of us. That picture of CAFO is shocking. It looks like a manufacturing plant, and is certainly not a “farm” in any traditional sense.

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