29
May
09

laurie garrett on that flu thingie

basically, close the meat farms, or we’re in for it

Governments the world over would do well to pay attention to Mexico’s response, and learn from it. Throughout Asia, governments have been pulling their old SARS-epidemic thermal monitors out of mothballs, and scanning people for evidence of fevers. That worked for SARS control because the SARS virus was almost exclusively contagious when people were running fevers. Not so with influenza: flu can be very contagious before the individual carrier has any symptoms at all, much less a fever.

Worse, some governments are banning pork products from the Americas, as if it were possible to get the flu from eating a cooked sausage. It is not.

A wiser set of pig-related actions would turn to the strange ecology we have created to feed meat to our massive human population. It is a strange world wherein billions of animals are concentrated into tiny spaces, breeding stock is flown to production sites all over the world and poorly paid migrant workers are exposed to infected animals. And it’s going to get much worse, as the world’s once poor populations of India and China enter the middle class. Back in 1980 the per capita meat consumption in China was about 44 pounds a year: it now tops 110 pounds. In 1983 the world consumed 152 million tons of meat a year. By 1997 consumption was up to 233 million tons. And the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that by 2020 world consumption could top 386 million tons of pork, chicken, beef and farmed fish.

This is the ecology that, in the cases of pigs and chickens, is breeding influenza. It is an ecology that promotes viral evolution. And if we don’t do something about it, this ecology will one day spawn a severe pandemic that will dwarf that of 1918.

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