Swine flu and you: problems with fish and pig CAFOs
Salmon farms helping treat swine flu? I don’t think so!
I recently read a claim that was so absurd that it made me do a double-take. According to a prominent seafood industry website, salmon farms have “raised the standard for human medicine” and helped treat swine flu as a result. I’m sorry, but salmon farms?
Do they mean those jam-packed ocean cages where diseases (including but not limited to infectious salmon anemia, pancreatic disease and amoebic gill disease) can spread faster than sneezing kids in a speeding school bus? Those dirty industrial facilities where 200,000 salmon can produce as much fecal waste as 65,000 humans , all of which flows, untreated, through the open pens and into our waters? (A study of Scotland‚ 350 salmon farms in 2000 found that the effluent, fish waste, from these farms has an ecological impact that is “effectively greater than the sewage produced by Scotland‚ 5.1 million humans.” Gross!) They couldn’t be talking about salmon farms, which have been linked to increased spread of devastating tick-like sea lice from farmed to wild fish, decimating populations of wild fish from Ireland and Norway to Canada‚ Pacific Coast. They can’t possibly be referring to salmon farms as a standard-bearer for human medicine can they?
Well, in fact, they are. IntraFish is a prominent news organization in the seafood industry based in Norway. Their argument basically goes that salmon farms have needed so many vaccinations to keep their fish alive that they’ve actually improved vaccine handling and efficiency, and these handling procedures have aided in the distribution of the sensitive H1N1 flu vaccination throughout Norway. While this statement may be true, it‚ fairly beside the point.
The big irony about this assertion that salmon farms have benefited human medicine is the fact that concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, the same model that‚ used in industrial salmon farming and industrial pig and chicken farming, may have been responsible for the development of swine flu in the first place. Like industrial fish farms, livestock CAFOs concentrate hundreds to thousands of animals in often crowded, dirty conditions. In a recent issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, Gregory Gray, the director of the University of Iowa‚ Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, describes how these conditions can drive the development of novel viruses like H1N1:
When respiratory viruses get into these confinement facilities, they have continual opportunity to replicate, mutate, reassort, and recombine into novel strains [as they jump from animal to animal]. The best surrogates we can find in the human population are prisons, military bases, ships, or schools. But respiratory viruses can run quickly through these human populations and then burn out, whereas in CAFOs‚ which often have continual introductions of unexposed animals‚ there‚ a much greater potential for the viruses to spread and become endemic.
When the mutated viruses reach the outside world, they can wreak havoc on human populations that have not developed immunity‚ exactly as we’ve seen with swine flu.
Be it fish or pig, industrial animal production hasn’t benefited human health. Besides their contribution to the development of novel viruses, these operations waste pollution problems are huge and growing. They contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria when they dose animals with drugs over long periods of time keep them from getting sick. And conditions for workers inside and around the operations are anything but healthy.
Follow the logic of IntraFish‚ vaccine efficiency claim a step further and you could argue that outbreaks of gun violence improve the efficiency of emergency room doctors. That may “raise the standard for human medicine,” but it hardly justifies causing the problem in the first place.
Marie Logan and Elanor Starmer