TCS Daily

The Fajita Flu

By Henry I. Miller - April 29, 2009 12:00 AM

Influenza pandemics are the stuff of nightmares. My father was able to recall the "Spanish flu" pandemic during the winter of 1918­-19, when classes in his Philadelphia grade school were canceled for weeks, shops were closed, and open horse-drawn wagons filled with corpses rumbled through the cobblestoned streets. Fortunately, as an eight-year-old, he could hardly have grasped the big picture—in October 1918, 195,000 Americans died (11,000 in Philadelphia alone). At one point the deaths came so fast that coffins, which were in short supply, were being stolen. Finally, on March 26, 1919, the government announced that the epidemic had killed 583,135 Americans. About half of those struck down were young and healthy.

The extent and impact of the outbreak of swine flu, which appears to have originated in Mexico and is spreading rapidly around the globe, is still unknown, but it has the potential to become an historic pandemic. That possibility appears less likely as the data continue to accumulate. There seems not to be the kind of exponential increase of number of infections that sometimes occurs, for example, with norovirus infections that sweep through cruise ships, dormitories, and other isolated populations. Moreover, the mortality rate -- at least in the United States -- is reassuringly low: the only fatality has been a child transported from Mexico for treatment.

Because of huge discrepancies between presumed cases and confirmed cases, the data from Mexico are virtually impossible to interpret. (They report 27 confirmed cases with seven deaths, while the unconfirmed cases number in the thousands.)

Unfortunately, conditions in many countries are conducive to the emergence of new viruses -- especially flu, which mutates rapidly and inventively. Intensive animal husbandry procedures that place poultry and swine in close proximity to humans, combined with unsanitary conditions, poverty, and grossly inadequate public health infrastructure of all kinds ­ all of which exist in Mexico, as well as much of Asia and Africa ­ make it unlikely that a pandemic can be prevented or contained at the source.

The rapid and constant movement of goods and people around the world makes early containment virtually impossible. We saw this with the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic in 2003, when within a matter of weeks, the disease spread rapidly from southern China to infect individuals in some 37 countries around the world, killing about 800; and in the current outbreak, in which New York City high-school students apparently brought the swine flu virus back from Mexico and infected their classmates. In addition, all six cases that have been reported in Canada were connected directly or indirectly with travel to Mexico.

Some background is necessary to understand how such new viruses arise. Flu viruses can be directly transmitted (via droplets from sneezing or coughing) from pigs to people, and vice versa. These cross-species infections occur most commonly when people are in close proximity to large numbers of pigs, such as in barns, livestock exhibits at fairs, and slaughterhouses. And, of course, flu is transmissible from human to human, either directly or via contaminated surfaces.

Pigs are uniquely susceptible to infection with flu viruses of mammalian and avian ­-- as well as porcine -- origin, which is of concern for a couple of reasons.

First, pigs can serve as intermediaries in the transmission of flu viruses from birds to people. And when avian viruses infect pigs, they adapt and become more efficient at infecting mammals, which makes them more easily transmitted to and more dangerous to humans.

Second, pigs can serve as hosts in which two (or more) influenza viruses infecting an animal simultaneously can undergo "genetic reassortment," a process in which pieces of viral RNA (the virus' genetic material, similar to DNA) are shuffled and exchanged, creating a new organism. The influenza viruses responsible for the worldwide 1957 and 1968 flu pandemics (which killed about 74,000 and 34,000, respectively, in the United States) were such viruses, containing genes from both human and avian viruses.

The production in Mexico of vast numbers of pigs and chickens under relatively primitive conditions and in close proximity to humans (often in small family farms) promotes such "natural experiments" in the production of new viruses.

Experience shows that attempts to stem the spread of an outbreak may actually exacerbate it. In 2006, China's chaotic effort to vaccinate 14 billion chickens to control avian flu was compromised by counterfeit vaccines and the absence of protective gear for vaccination teams, the members of which probably spread disease by carrying infected fecal material on their shoes from one farm to another.

The situation in Mexico resembles the scenario we might expect for an outbreak of a major human-to-human pandemic in its earliest stages: a large number of illnesses among social and family contacts of victims; infection of healthcare workers and patients in hospitals where the victims are treated; and the rapid spread of confirmed cases from an initial region to other countries as people infected by the virus travel while it is incubating, but before they become seriously ill.

No swine flu vaccine is available for humans (and it would certainly take more than a year to design, prepare, test and get approved by the FDA), but because the anti-flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza have been stockpiled for use in the event of an avian flu pandemic, large amounts of them are available. (Vaccines stimulate the body to mount an immune response to an infectious agent, while drugs act directly on the virus or bacterium to kill it.) However, the drugs must be administered during the first couple of days after symptoms begin in order to be an effective treatment (and are also effective at prevention if administered prior to exposure); and history suggests that when used in poor countries, they often are administered improperly ­ such as in sub-optimal doses ­ in ways that promote viral resistance and actually intensify an outbreak.

While we are waiting to ascertain the breadth and severity of the outbreak, there is much that individuals can do to safeguard themselves and others:

  • Avoid unnecessary travel to areas with significant numbers of cases of swine flu.
  • Seek medical help (or at least an anti-flu drug, Tamiflu or Relenza, both of which require a physician's prescription) if you think you have actual flu, the symptoms of which include abrupt onset of fever, aching muscles, extreme tiredness, sore throat, and a cough that does not produce sputum. (The flu is not the same as the common cold.)
  • If you're given Tamiflu or Relenza, take it exactly when and how prescribed.
  • If you get flu, stay home from work or school.
  • To avoid becoming exposed or if you have the flu, wear a mask ­-- an "N-95 respirator," which can be obtained at hardware stores.
  • Cover nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, and discard the tissue after you use it.
  • Any surface that others have touched could be contaminated with virus, so wash hands frequently with soap and hot water or with alcohol-based hand cleaners
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth, which can introduce the flu virus.
  • Keep up with the news on the outbreak, and follow instructions from public health officials.

To avoid or mitigate catastrophe, as individuals and collectively we need to be aggressive, smart and resilient. In society, as in evolutionary biology, survival requires nothing less.

Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He is a former flu researcher and was an official at the NIH and FDA from 1977 to 1994.


Factory farms are good.
Natural,organic, free range farms are the types of places such virus can readily be brewed.
Factory farms with hogs confined, disinfectant used between units, no contact with chickens, etc. are much better suited to a healthier planet.

irresponsible journalism
Here is just another example of again of such irresponsible jornalism. The name of the article, 'Fajita Flu' is way out of line because everybody knows that fajitas are Tex-Mex cuisine, rather than from old Mexico, where the flu probably started and government there will try to hide the origin of.
The article would more properly be called say the 'Taco Flu', or perhaps the ones they call burritos al pastor, with the thin pork slices.

Wow marjon
After this comment I declare you the king of stupid. Not even common sense and facts will get in the way of your desire to attack anything remotely resembling a progressive idea.

Really, I'm a fellow rebel, I like to play the devil's advocate just as you do, but you have to use knowledge and logic and your brain in the process. Its like your control impulse is permamently shut off.

This is excellent advice from the doctor, and he is correct that factory farms with poor sanitary conditions are incubators for this sort of thing.

I bet you use anibacterial soap and demand antibiotics from your doctor when you have a cold. In other words, you're the stereotype of "dumb American". You haven't learned a damn thing since you turned 18.

You have never been to a hog confinement unit?
Workers do everything they can to prevent diseases from being transmitted between units. Same with poultry.

I am opposed to anti-bacterial soap. It only kills the weak bacteria and does nothing to viruses.

The doctor did not say it was 'factory farms'. It is small family farms where people practically live with the chickens and hogs. As these are poor farmers, they don't have the resources to keep everything clean.

bob redefines stupidity and arrogance
but then again, he's a liberal, so who's surprised.

Would you for once, care to actually deal with the arguments that people make, or is insulting anyone who disagrees with you the limit of your intellectual abilities.

factory farms vs. living with your pigs
I think Marjon is right on this one. When I used to hang around mexico and other third world countries years ago, I would see things like some guy performing his toilette in the bushes, then a pig running up and eating it all. There are often pigs running about all over the places in the villages, living with the dogs, chickens and naked brats crapping all over the place, the pigs eating anything they can find including the dead bodies of other animals.

If we then compare this model to say Denmark here pork products is one of its main industries, and it's one of the biggest exporters in the world, what's probably the better model?

A pandemic is much more likely to start in some filthy country like Mexico now, or red China before where they found those guys were eating cats, etc. than in a place with modern factory farms.

Flu vaccines start in China
Flu vaccines in the USA start on Chinese farms and markets where pigs and birds of all kinds are kept in close quarters in less than sanitary conditions. Incubation is done in chicken eggs.
Certainly chicken and swine confinement units are in danger of infections which is why workers must change clothes and boots and disinfect between units to prevent contamination and killing all the animals.
No one seems to mind all the deadly infections people contract when they are in 'sterile' hospitals. Those are really nasty.

In the old days...
on family farms, pigs used to run with the cows and chickens as well. Cows don't digest corn well and the pigs and chickens would pick through the cow dung for their sweet treats.
It was a more efficient use of corn.

Dirt farms vs factory farms
Good comment, Joanie: "I personally like the idea of having meat, milk and eggs that are from animals raised without antibiotics and hormones and that are not given feeds containing animal by-products, pesticides or herbicides. I do, however, understand that by cutting back on antibiotics, there is a greater chance for the spread of infection among the animals."

The thing is, factory farms are septic by their very nature. The animals are horribly overcrowded and live in their own filth despite the constant need for cleaning and disinfecting. Without a hefty dose of antibiotics on a daily basis, these meat animals would all die.

So antibiotic overuse and factory farming are inseparable. It's very true that peasant farms, where the ducks, chickens, pigs and people all stay in close daily contact, are incubators for avian and swine versions of the flu (like the current H1N1 strain). But factory farms are no healthier.

The thing about free-range meat farms as opposed to factory farms is that the free-range method ensures that each animal is cared for and healthy. That costs more.

In factory farming not only is economy practised, so it's enough for the animal to just stay alive long enough to kill, but all the profit goes to the company. The farmer is just a lowly subcontractor, one who has no say in how the animals are raised. The companies have this arrangement because it's cheaper than paying the farmers as employees.

Factory farm subs are responsible for all the risks. They buy their facilities, animals, feed and inputs from the producer.. and sell the finished animal back to them. No one makes a very good living factory farming. The people at Smithfield, or Pilgrim's Pride, or Perdue make all the profit.

We don't know yet whether the original H1N1 infection came from a dirt farm or a factory farm. It will be interesting to find out which.

Smithfield Food Corp.
So far, the first case of swine flu in Mexico has been "linked" to a factory farm owned by Smithfield Foods.. a major hog producer in the US.

The case is far from conclusive. The first person infected lived adjacent to the Smithfield CAFO, or "factory farm". We don't yet know more, and have seen no investigation of the farm itself.

I will say though that Smithfield exercises total control over the way all their farms are operated. Operators are bound to a very tight and detailed performance contract. So if this farm is ever found to have been deficient it will be a prima facie indictment of Smithfield's methods.

BTW I'm very impressed with Dr Miller's expertise and impartiality. Would that he would always stick to subjects he's competent in.

No, it hasn't.
"LONDON (Reuters) - Dead pigs in China, evil factory farms in Mexico and an Al Qaeda plot involving Mexican drug cartels are a few wild theories seeking to explain a deadly swine flu outbreak that has killed up to 176 people.

Nobody knows for sure but scientists say the origins are in fact far less sinister and are likely explained by the ability of viruses to mutate and jump from species to species as animals and people increasingly live closer to each other.

"The pig has been considered the mixing bowl of influenza viruses. Both avian flu and pig flu viruses have spread via the pig to humans," Paul Yeo, a virologist at Durham University in Britain, said on Thursday.'

"And in Mexico reports in at least two newspapers focused on a factory farm run by a subsidiary of global food giant Smithfield Foods. Some of the rumors mentioned noxious fumes from pig manure and flies -- neither a known vector for flu viruses.'

ALL farms are 'septic'.
Unless you can train your animals to use a toilet, there will be crap all over the place, on any farm.
Pigs are the cleanest animals. The crap in the same place all the time as to llamas.
Hogs in confinement units are on slats with their waste dropping down out of the way and they are frequently washed down.
I know of many wealthy farmers who raise healthy animals using the most efficient and healthy means possible.
Beef feed lots on dirt can get nasty, but on concrete with daily cleaning they are very clean.
Don't know much about farms do you?

That's a grand simplification
"ALL farms are 'septic'."

Certainly you're aware that that's a matter of degree. Some farms are very clean. Others are toxic cesspools.

Hogs in CAFOs are forced to live promiscuously, crammed tightly into small places their entire lives. Air circulation is minimal, even with those fans on the ends of the houses. Germs are transmitted easily, as the hogs can't distance themselves from one another. Therefore the perceived need to constantly feed them antibiotics, so they don't die of contagious disease.

Obviously there are some factory farms that are cleaner than others, just as there are clean and dirty traditional farms. The traditional ones are much easier to raise healthy animals in. And the dominating factor is population density.. just as with humans in large urban slums.

"Don't know much about farms do you?"

I don't run one. But I'm reasonably up to speed on issues like hog lagoons, farm waste disposal, field application of manures, artificial wetlands, wastewater management and air quality issues and the like. NCSU is very involved in these debates, and has funded quite a bit of research in that area. I attend their symposia and have toured a fair number of model farm operations, asking questions of the farmers about why they do what they do. So I would say I'm competent in the subject. There are good ways and bad ways to raise healthy animals.. or would you want to dispute that as well?

Pointing a finger
There's nothing to dispute in your news clipping. But neither does it refute my comment.

Influenza, as a family of viruses, thrives at the nexus of humans, pigs and domestic fowl.. thus the new strains typically pop up in China, where the three species live promiscuously. There are, of course, reservoirs in wild populations.

On close analysis-- which has not been done yet-- they may well find that the first human victim was infected on an old fashioned mom and pop farm. I've said that in my first response to Joanie, in fact. All the news reports say is that that first victim did in fact live near a Smithfield farm. And those are run much the same whether in Mexico or in the states. So that would raise an obvious suspicion.

We may never know the real story. It would be easy enough to examine the Smithfield operation to see whether their hogs come up positive. But it's a highly politicised issue, with a lot of money riding on it. Even here in NC, Smithfield often gets to write their own reports.. ones that clear them of any wrongdoing.

Can it be that different in Mexico? I'm waiting to see what develops.

We should have seen it coming
Very good article in the current New Scientist. Let me know if you can't open it.. they get a little difficult some times about nonsubscribers.

>This type of virus emerged in the US in 1998 and has since become endemic on hog farms across North America. Equipped with a suite of pig, bird and human genes, it was also evolving rapidly.

Flu infects many animals, including waterfowl, pigs and humans. Birds and people rarely catch flu viruses adapted to another host, but they can pass flu to pigs, which also have their own strains.If a pig catches two kinds of flu at once it can act as a mixing vessel, and hybrids can emerge with genes from both viruses.

This is what happened in the US in 1998. Until then, American pigs had regular winter flu, much like people, caused by a mutated virus from the great human pandemic of 1918, which killed pigs as well as at least 50 million people worldwide. This virus was a member of the H1N1 family - with H and N being the virus's surface proteins haemagglutinin and neuraminidase.

Over decades, H1N1 evolved in pigs into a mild, purely swine flu, and became genetically fairly stable. In 1976, there was an outbreak of swine H1N1 in people at a military camp in New Jersey, with one death. The virus did not spread efficiently, though, and soon fizzled out.

But in 1998, says Richard Webby of St Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, swine H1N1 hybridised with human and bird viruses, resulting in "triple reassortants" that surfaced in Minnesota, Iowa and Texas. The viruses initially had human surface proteins and swine internal proteins, with the exception of three genes that make RNA polymerase, the crucial enzyme the virus uses to replicate in its host. Two were from bird flu and one from human flu. Researchers believe that the bird polymerase allows the virus to replicate faster than those with the human or swine versions, making it more virulent.

By 1999, these viruses comprised the dominant flu strain in North American pigs and, unlike the swine virus they replaced, they were actively evolving. There are many versions with different pig or human surface proteins, including one, like the Mexican flu spreading now, with H1 and N1 from the original swine virus.

All these viruses still contained the same "cassette" of internal genes, including the avian and human polymerase genes, reports Amy Vincent of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Ames, Iowa (Advances in Virus Research, vol 72, p 127). "They are why the swine versions of this virus easily outcompete those that don't have them," says Webby.

But the viruses have been actively switching surface proteins to evade the pigs' immunity. There are now so many kinds of pig flu that it is no longer seasonal. One in five US pig producers actually makes their own vaccines, says Vincent, as the vaccine industry cannot keep up with the changes.

This rapid evolution posed the "potential for pandemic influenza emergence in North America", Vincent said last year. Webby, too, warned in 2004 that pigs in the US are "an increasingly important reservoir of viruses with human pandemic potential". One in five US pig workers has been found to have antibodies to swine flu, showing they have been infected, but most people have no immunity to these viruses.


life is living all around us...
There is no good way to keep viruses and bacteria from finding hosts. Combining domestic pigs, chickens, dogs cats, rats, mice and people all into the same biological space gives the bugs myriad such opportunities. Of course, chicken buildings, hog facilities, dairy barns and feed lots for beef allow us more control than people in developing countries can afford. If they can be then farmers are very careful with their livestock because sick animals cost money.

But remember that the really dangerous viruses such as Ebola and HIV originate in the wild. We need to watch these things closely and respond appropriately. The only way we might actually stop seeing diseases resulting from domestic chickens, pigs and beef is to stop eating meat. For some of the folks out there this is the underlying ideological agenda.

Now you back off?
"But Lezana said the presence of Eurasian swine flu genes in the H1N1 virus makes it unlikely that the disease originated in a Mexican pig farm.

Oaxaca is one of Mexico's poorest states, but victims of the flu have been found in wealthier areas including the capital.

The cause of the woman's death was not determined until April 23 when a previously unknown flu virus combining strains of swine, bird and human flus was identified."

Especially since you can't blame those greedy corporate ba$tard$?

Why not the same attacks on HIV?
Let's blame factory farms, but don't shut down homosexual bath houses or condemn such homosexual practices that spread that virus.

Farmers were observed not to contract, or suffer greatly, from small pox because most had contracted the milder cow pox.
Instead of vaccines, maybe children need to take supplements that stimulate their immune system, like capsules of farm dirt. Children who play in the dirt and grow up around animals on a farm have much better immunity than city kids.
Too clean has proven to be unhealthy.

How many flies did you see on those 'model' farms?
Flies lay their eggs in manure and unless every animal on the farm has a diaper or is trained to flush a toilet, there is going to be much manure about.

I know all about raising healthy animals and every farmer who wants to make money raises healthy animals.

He likes to filibuster

Help me out
What did I miss? I read that article five times and I found no reference to free range or factory farms. they referred to poultry and swine being raised in proximity to humans. which is a common situation in poorer rural countries, I assume.

2 more examples
Here's two more personal anecdotes of mine that illustrate something about attitudes in old mexico.

We're on a beach and hear there's been a rabid dog running around killing chickens etc. The locals finally find it and kill it on the beach with sticks and stones. Then what happens? They just leave it lay there where the pigs and chickens in turn will eat from IT! So it takes my gallant gringo friend to take the initiative to comandeer a shovel and bury it as deep as he can.

I'm swimming in the sea, a huge wave smashes me into the shore as I'm coming in, I'm knocked out briefly and bleeding profusely from my nose, by now clinging to the sand trying not to get swept out, screaming out in spanish to all the hundreds of locals all around me, just staring at me, till finally what happens? A couple of gringo boys run over and drag me up the beach to safety.

Mexico is a country where even if there is an inspector for anything, he can and will be bought off; standards for cleanliness and everything else are very primitive.

Raising animals cleanly, the animal rights agenda, etc.
FB: I usually agree with your comments.. but this would not be one of those occasions. So I have taken the liberty of making some refinements.

"Of course, chicken buildings, hog facilities, dairy barns and feed lots for beef allow us more control than people in developing countries can afford."

Smithfield Food Corp. applies precisely the same standards to their hog farms in Mexico as they do in the US. The cost structure of their operation allows for all inputs (feed, antibiotics, lighting, ventilation, etc.) to be paid from their repurchase of finished hogs.. leaving a small profit for the farmer to live on. So control is identical in either country.

"If they can be then farmers are very careful with their livestock because sick animals cost money."

The farmers can't change the formula.. Smithfield dictates the precise outlines of the way their swine must be raised. And sick animals don't cost the company money, they are disposed of by the farmer. Smithfield loses nothing, while the farmer-finisher just can't resell that dead hog to the company.

There is a formula, where a long baseline of data indicates hogs raised in a certain way may have 10% mortality. If it's cheaper to cut some corners and make more money with a 20% mortality, that's the way they will go. They will probably not choose methods leading to a one percent mortality because it's too damn expensive.

"But remember that the really dangerous viruses such as Ebola and HIV originate in the wild."

Ebola's not very dangerous, from an epidemiological standpoint. It's too hot. That is, it has a short incubation period combined with a high death rate. Patients die almost before you know they're sick. So they don't get the chance to infect many people. Ebola outbreaks typically may cost a hundred lives or so before they snuff themselves out.

The most dangerous epidemics occur when the incubation period is long, as it is with AIDS. By the time someone becomes symptomatic they may have had years to infect dozens of other people.

"The only way we might actually stop seeing diseases resulting from domestic chickens, pigs and beef is to stop eating meat. For some of the folks out there this is the underlying ideological agenda."

I don't see it. People are all in a tizzy over outbreaks like H1N1 precisely because they DO eat meat.

Animal Rights people actually represent the tiniest of fractions of public sentiment. Libertarians (the crowd here and reading mags like Reason) have a disproportionate view of the power and influence radical A-R bogeymen have in society.. which power and influence are only slightly greater than negligible.

It's not all just a big plot, in other words. A substantial part of our food base has a problem with wide public health implications.

"I know all about raising healthy animals and every farmer who wants to make money raises healthy animals."

You're talking about a self-employed farmer. A contract farmer has no latitude to raise his pigs or chickens in any way other than the way his contract reads. That package deal is what we know as "factory farming".

Here's a good way to treat the problem of flies, larva and hog ****. Buy some black soldier flies.

They're harmless outdoor creatures that don't spread human disease because they don't go indoors. And they like to lay their eggs in hog ****.

You have to modify your slats in the pen, so you can separate the urine from the *****. Drain off the urine (passive flow) and collect the dung. Put it under a hood.

The hood collects the methane, which you convert to electricity with a small gas generator. Then you run a dryer (as well as lights and heat in your pen) to dry the dung to a crumbly, odorless consistency. This makes it a tolerably clean substance to work with.

Let your black soldier flies lay their eggs in it-- they love the stuff. And put an inclined ramp in the bin where you put your pile.

The BSF larvae will hatch and climb up the ramp, falling into a second bin. They self-collect, so this part of the process is really effortless.

Bag them up and sell them to fish farms as fish food. You can get top dollar for the stuff. It assays out as higher in fat and protein than commercial fish meal made from species like menhaden. And it's sanitary, containing near-zero dried manure.

Your BSF meal becomes a secondary profit center for your swine operation. The process works as well, I understand, with poultry litter.

THAT is what a model farm can do.

So we need to manage this business better...

There is a public health issue here, of course. Therefore, it is appropriate for the government to regulate food production and the manner in which we treat domestic animals.

I ran a dairy beef operation on my farm in Lake Geneva from 1979 to 1984...Holstein bull calves raised out to slaughter weight steers...50 head at various stages all the time. The baby calves were started in outdoor hutches...8'x4'x4' with a 10' semi-circle of hog wire outside the front door...and after six weeks moved into fenced paddocks with access into the lean-to and barn.

I bought all my bull calves from the same dairy farmer so our exposure to outside bovine viruses, for example, was pretty minimal. No money in it really. But I learned a lot.

Dairy cows are mostly kept in free-stalls with some access to larger lots to walk around. And that's OK for them. Hogs are kept in what they call farrowing crates so the baby pigs stay with their mothers and away from other pigs until they are weaned into growing pens. Piggeries are often built over slatted floors...full or the space can be hosed down pretty much continually. But it still smells. The amount of space allotted for each animal and how large the groups should be has been studied quite a lot. The government should have an informed opinion. Broiler chickens are raised 50,000 at a time and egg houses can be pretty the point that something should be done about that. Veal barns with those small crates are also kind of sad.

We will be doing more of this intense ranching of meat animals here in America...not less...and we could probably afford to pay a little more for our food if the animals themselves would be treated better...raising production costs some. There comes a point where profits alone cannot justify unethical behavior on our part.

The mistreatment of prisoners comes to mind...and some people trying to justify behaving badly because it pays off. If enemy combatants...who decided to surrender rather than to fight to the death...should not be treated poorly then how can we justify making our innocent food animals miserable? So we will make a bit more money? Or so our food will be less expensive? No. That's wrong. Write the law.

But domestic animals are not wild animals and insofar as you might think that all animals should be living outdoors and running around free...that's putting a chauvanistic, paternalistic spin on this thing. We like to be indoors most of the time and so do our dogs and cats. Almost everyone likes to sleep as much as possible so we should make our animals reasonably comfortable, let them enjoy a natural social context if they have enough brains to appreciate it...chickens and fish don't really seem to, by the way...but we should appreciate that the reason those animals are alive is to end up as high quality food for us.

If you want to fall in love with your animals then raise horses. Otherwise, you do your job and let the animals do theirs. We are all in this thing together...and there is only one way out.

I'm backing off?
"The woman" in the article is not Patient Zero. She's the first fatality. She lived in the city of Oaxaca, according to the report, whereas the actual Patient Zero lived adjacent to a Smithfield-owned farm.

For Mexico's chief epidemiologist to quickly say that the virus was unlikely to originate on a pig farm would be like saying it fell from the sky. It had to come from somewhere.. and it's conceivable to me that he might want to shift the blame from Mexico by just making it look like the Hand of God striking us down. Certainly no Mexican pig would do a thing like that.

I'm awaiting the results of the autopsies. If the virus is (or is not) found in the respiratory systems of the pigs in question, that should settle the case. Assuming the results are ever released.

So explain to me how "I" am backing off. What claim have I made that this refutes?

Don't eat anyone who has a name
I'm suitably impressed that you've run a dairy operation, and can speak with authority.

Also that you touch upon the idea of ethics. There are those who complain loudly that animals don't share our higher qualities, and thus are presumably not entitled to consideration. They can't do sums, nor can they hold reasoned opinions.. so why should anyone care about them?

The issue, of course, is the capacity for suffering. And I would here invite the comparison between a farrowing crate and a tiger cage, such as was used in Vietnam.. in terms of dimension relative to the size of the captive. To me, if we're going to kill them and profit from the deed (which I find nothing wrong with) we owe it to them to give them a reasonably comfortable, tolerable life in exchange.

That's the social contract, fairly drawn. If you're most people, you get to work all your life for someone else, pay taxes and die. In return, you get some money. And if you're destined to be meat, you get to laze around for a couple of years, having all your needs met, and then (hopefully humanely) you're slaughtered. That's a fair deal.

But we've wandered afield of the issue of sanitation. Overcrowded pens save the people benefitting from a massively scaled operation money, while raising animals in a barnyard affords the farmer and his animals more satisfaction.. and forces him to charge a premium for hand-raised beef and pork. Both are in demand in my neighborhood, where you can buy organic Angus cuts or hickory cured pork from heirloom breeds of pig who loved being pigs. And you do pay extra.

Which results in the better, more sanitary product? Each of us, as the fecal count for inspected carcasses is rarely published, is his own judge.

If you've ever looked into your herd's eyes, you know they thank you for the favors you've bestowed on them. Cattle are likable, affectionate creatures.

An anecdote
"Almost everyone likes to sleep as much as possible so we should make our animals reasonably comfortable, let them enjoy a natural social context if they have enough brains to appreciate it...chickens and fish don't really seem to, by the way..."

The problem with fish is that they live in a hard neighborhood. It wouldn't do them any good to smile or show emotion, so they've never evolved facial muscles. That makes us assume they feel nothing. They never say "ouch".

I was watching one of those nature programs, where the guy goes to the Bahamas to film reef fish. And he had this grouper he really got along with. Fed it speared fish and stuff, petted it.. you know.

Anyway he doesn't get back for a few years. Then when he does, he finds the SAME grouper. About 200 pounds. And it's unmistakable.. the fish is overjoyed to see him! Anyone with any sense of body language could see the equivalent of a dog jumping up and down, tail wagging. It was really cute.

What was that all about? So they recognize old friends. Big deal.

social contract with animals?
I would argue the point that it's a social contract at all, muchless fairly drawn. With both of your cases, humans and animals, how can it be fair since only one of the party has drawn up the terms.

Those animals were never asked if they wanted a social contract whereby they get to be eaten, nor did they voluntarily agree to the deal. It's based on pure force.

It's the same with humans since it's only a liberal notion that there is any sort of social contract. We weren't asked, and if we don't submit we get killed too.

Isn't that how humans contracted venerial disease?
After homosexual marriage, interspecies marriage will be their next objective.

My steers as longshoremen...
One night I got home late and had not taken the evening hay out to my guys so I went up in the barn, picked up a couple of bales, walked down the steps, around the corner under the lean-to over to the hay feeder and the steers were in there all in their six-calf classes having graduated out of the calf hutches together and they stayed together as a team for life. They were laying down in their circles facing each other and it looked for all the world like I had walked into a longshoreman's bar down at the docks with these full tables and intense quiet conversations going on and they all looked up as if I was intruding on their private time together. It was absolutely no different than walking into a strange place with men I did not know and they thought about whether or not they should all get up and stomp me...but then they simply went back to their conversations and ignored me. You cannot tell me that social mammals are any difffert from men at a visceral level. They might not be much like our women perhaps...but they are definitely the same as you and me.

See. That's true...and my Koi definitely knew me. And they knew each other. But fish really do have small brains and in the end they are probably just about as happy in a big school as in a small group where they know everyone.

I do hate the idea that we kill these things...but they are tough and we need to be realistic about when it is our time too. We only think we are special. Everything is special and everyone is precious.


your steers
Maybe it was you then and not Roy who said that since animals were just like humans they deserved a seat on the security council?

Did you also make a 'fair social contract' with them? In the case of your steers that would be to castrate them before killing them to eat them, right? Did you ask their opinion? Did they sign off on it? Did they have any choice in the matter, or are they like humans too in that if we don't conform to the state's wishes we also get killed?

koi comparison
You remind me of some other guy who compared humans to slugs.
It seems like a lot of you guys have a Walt Disney view of animals. You romanticise them, and anthropomorphise them.
I like the saying that says that dogs are man's best friend not because they are so faithful and loyal and obedient etc. but simply because they can't talk back.

It's a matter of humanity
You betray no sense of fundamental fairness in your thinking. Whether it's animals or people, you're talking about individuals who are conscious, have feelings and feel pain. To treat them inhumanely, just on the principle that you can get away with it, places you morally below the level of a beast.

There are many who refuse to eat meat out of a sensitivity to the idea that we steal these animals' lives from them to feed our faces. I don't see it that way. If we didn't eat meat, cattle, chickens and pigs would be just more endangered species, being crowded off the planet so we can have more room.

But.. if we're going to raise them just to eat them we owe it to them to house them in reasonably clean, healthy surroundings. And to kill them in ways that don't disgust us and terrify them. Abattoirs don't have to be the houses of horror they so often are. It's possible to kill cleanly and painlessly. And when that is done the meat even tastes better, as it's not shot through with the sourness of fear hormones. No lie.

This is a matter of simple humanity. When you say "it's only a liberal notion that there is any sort of social contract. We weren't asked, and if we don't submit we get killed too" you're saying that's okay, and not a crime. I disagree.

The whole world used to be evil, because no one in the old days knew any better. Now it's a much nicer place.. because of people like me, not people like you.

It's a mean old world
You and I are on the same page, when you say things like this: "I do hate the idea that we kill these things...but they are tough and we need to be realistic about when it is our time too. We only think we are special. Everything is special and everyone is precious."

And for all we know, koi feel the same way too. I used to raise koi too, and they'd all come around when I came home from work. But they greeted me the same way my cats do.. "Yippee, here comes the guy with the food bag."

There's certainly more than that, of course. Such creatures are affectionate, and seem to know that you care for them out of some deeper bond.. which they repay in the only ways they know how.

But when they don't get fed any more? Then your koi start eating one another, until only a handful of the biggest ones are left. And it's that way with people too. If every Somali had a job we wouldn't see any more pirates there than we'd see in Palm Beach Florida. But when times get tough, a fellow's got to make a living.

My solution for places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and everywhere else hate rules would be to make more jobs. Then they'd be too busy pulling down a paycheck to be off beheading people out of spite. But when we invaded Iraq, part of our purpose was to dismantle their socialist economy. So the very first thing we did was to destroy everybody's job, back in 2003-04.

Look what happened then.

It's up to the office manager to send them home
All those sick people are showing up at the office when they're most contagious because they need the money. It's in their best interest to endanger others.

A good office manager will send them home.

The same with school. Parents don't want to keep their sick kids at home because they have to go to work too. So the infirmary should find a place to isolate kids coming in sick, until their parents can be contacted to bring them back home.

I'm enjoying thecolonel's examples of how primitive and dirty the Mess-a-kins are (above, "2 more examples"). In fact there's quite a lot on TV and in the news about Mexico's public health response. And I'll have to say, I'm very impressed with the way they're taking this epidemic seriously. Everything in the country's been closed down, these past five or six days. We'll be doing well to mount a response even half as effective as theirs has been.

nicer because of you?
Yes I admit that nowadays the state does kill us in more humane ways that previously. Remember they used to hang us, or even draw and quarter us, some countries strangled their citizens, and some used the quillotine; some places used to crucify them, and muslims still like to cut their heads off. Nowadays it's mostly lethal injection in the US, and police bullets. So it sounds like you're saying the world is a nicer place for that; thanks a lot.

People like me on the other hand don't think we should be killed for not submitting to the state.

Since you claim you're a nice guy, tell me what you propose to do with me if I refuse to support say paying for the various wars, all those 700+ military bases, all the pork and other corruption, the FEMA policy that builds new houses for millionaires, etc.

Factor in that I would also resist the armed goons in costume that would try to kidnap me and take me away firstly to the government gulag rape-rooms like San Quentin, Folsom, etc.

Shooting it out with the coppers
I think we're both on the same side of that issue. If you don't want to pay taxes to support militarism, pork and waste I'm OK with that. I save myself a lot of trouble by just paying up.

But I don't think the penalty for nonpayment includes either lethal injection or police bullets. Instead, my understanding is that they entangle you in legal and financial complications. Pretty ugly, all right.. but nonfatal.

Shooting it out with the coppers
I think we're both on the same side of that issue. If you don't want to pay taxes to support militarism, pork and waste I'm OK with that. I save myself a lot of trouble by just paying up.

But I don't think the penalty for nonpayment includes either lethal injection or police bullets. Instead, my understanding is that they entangle you in legal and financial complications. Pretty ugly, all right.. but nonfatal.

shooting it out
We went thru this before and I believe you conceded my point. The penalty for many of what the government calls crimes, like not giving them your money, or doing things they don't approve of like using some drugs currently not in fashion, is not directly the death penalty. But when you actually refuse to submit to them the threat is of deadly force.

Walk thru it. The government wants to take money from me so they can pay Barney Frank and other beaurocrats to give it out to their favored groups, or to FEMA to buy a new house for some millionaire like John Stossel.
Next step, I refuse to give them any. Next step they send letters, then supeana to go to court, then I refuse to show up, another threatening letter, I ignore.
Then the goons in costume show up at the door saying they are arresting me(kidnapping), I slame the door in their faces.

Now you continue the story. And I asked what YOU yourself proposed for me if I refuse to pay for those black ghettoes they call 'projects'.

Tell me what the government would do to me, and what you would.

make more jobs for them
How would you propose to make jobs for them?
Here are some examples of how the government hires people: the Post Office not to deliver mail(the amount of lost mail is a state secret), so maybe twice as many people not to deliver it.
What about like all those employees at FEMA, to guard bridges so people can't escape the floods?
Why not a million more to work at HUD to run more ghettos for people?
They also hire a lot for agencies like the IRS to shake people down for their money.
Hey, what about just hiring them all for the military and send them overseas to kill other people.
Maybe a million of them for prison guards to enslave people for non violent crimes like most of the millions already in prison in the US.

These are just a few of the examples of how government have make work projects.

Clinton killed women and children in Waco for not obeying.
He burned them out.

another example of not obeying for Roy
Do you remember when the storm troops busted into a family home and kidnapped elian gonzalez, the kid who managed to escape the captive island of cuba? If that family had resisted the goons in costume and flak jackets and multiple guns trained on them, I guess Roy thinks they could have just expected a polite but firm registered letter explaing why it's a really good idea to send a kid back to slavery.

Count on it
Waco was a very badly botched bust. Police units have a way of doing that.. whether it's the BATF, FBI ir local forces like the Philly police. Remember when they burned down an entire city block to bust John Africa and MOVE? Same thing happened.

But my point to thecolonel was that this was not for nonpayment of taxes. In both cases, Waco and Philadelphia, it was for being a fanatic group of highly armed religious nutjobs. And the justification was to try to prevent another Jonestown.

However I will say this. When you don't pay your taxes and won't show up at your hearing, a US Marshal will certainly come knock on your door. And if it is known that you have an arsenal inside, and you refuse to come out, it is likely that they might burn your house down too. They don't like taking "no" for an answer.

Smart move
"Tell me what the government would do to me, and what you would."

I wouldn't do anything to you. You seem harmless enough. I even use a civil tone when speaking with you.

But I see your point. Being who you are, you wouldn't be content to just meekly answer your subpoena and go to court. You'd want to shoot it out with them.

And in answer to the query "what would the government do to me?", I would refer you to my answer to marjon below, "Count on it".

finally you admit to the threat of deadly force
Before you tried to deny it, now you're finally admitting that if you don't obey the government, for various reasons not just taxes, the threat is that they will kill you.

Also, all those agencies, armed to the teeth, ready to kill us, that you say you depend on to protect you, don't even make it safe to walk around at nite in so many areas all over the country, including DC where I've recently heard there are about 30 such agencies.

Of course
If you barricade yourself in your house and yell "You'll never get me, copper" they'll surround the place and start shooting. And they won't be satisfied until you've either come out with your hands up or you've been thoroughly killed.

We all know that. That's why those of us with an IQ over 80 don't make it a habit of barricading ourselves into a house and yelling "You'll never get me, copper."

To me, this is a basic intelligence test. And so far, you're not passing it.

Good find
Actually Veratect sounded the alarm 18 days before the Mexican government declared an emergency.

It's a brand new approach, data mining to identify new outbreaks of things like anomalous lung diseases. I think it's very likely that Veratect is going to be making a lot of money on contract to the CDC, WHO and every national health department on earth.

If you have a couple of thousand you want to wager on the stock market, this would be a good time to get in on the ground floor.

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