The Great Swine Flu Cover-Up

Linked with Americas Program.

Published on Americas Program, by Laura Carlsen, September 10, 2009.

Mexico has been considered the laboratory of globalization since it initiated the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. In April of 2009 a deadly virus germinated in that laboratory, finding ideal conditions to move quickly into a global pandemic …

… Integrated Risk Management or Integrated Risks?

It’s ironic and inexcusable that the most integrated region in the world responded so poorly to the recent epidemic. One of the main selling points for the extension of NAFTA into the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) was that a working group was preparing integrated response to epidemics that would make all North Americans safer. In fact, this was one of the few publically announced activities of the secretive working groups that primarily devote their activities to making it easier for companies like Smithfield and Tyson to do business throughout the continent. 

The SPP North American Plan declares that it provides a framework to accomplish the following:

  • Detect, contain, and control an avian influenza outbreak and prevent transmission to humans;
  • Prevent or slow the entry of a new strain of human influenza into North America;
  • Minimize illness and deaths; and
  • Sustain infrastructure and mitigate the impact to the economy and the functioning of society. The plan supposedly established mechanisms to coordinate actions, monitor outbreaks, and supervise animal farms.

Mexico, despite being a poor country with greater risk of disease, had not received the technology needed to immediately analyze flu strains and therefore had to send samples to the Canadian Health Ministry and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta for analysis. About a week was lost in this process …

… A People’s Movement for Biosafety:

The whole system must be carefully analyzed and changed to stop the globalization of disease and prevent another deadly flu outbreak. The effort must start with the investigation and regulation of large livestock farms, leaving open the possibility that this model must be scrapped completely. Now that the origin of the virus is known, factory farms must become a center of research.

Mexico’s experience as the epicenter of the swine flu pandemic provides an opportunity to expose a system that didn’t work. Without elaborating on each, here is a list for further collective analysis:

  • Self-monitoring of industry and globalization provisions that enable polluting industries to locate where laws and enforcement are lax encourage practices that threaten health and the environment, like open-pit manure lagoons, non-reporting of animal illness, cover-ups, and other factors that contributed to the swine flu epidemic.
  • The centrality of foreign investment in the Mexican economy creates a climate where transnational corporations with large investments can exercise coercive power over government agencies on all levels.
  • NAFTA failed to promote a strategically important technology transfer to Mexico in the health field and others, and has proved a disincentive to national research and development.

All analysis must include a gender perspective. Women made up 56% of the deaths from the swine flu in Mexico and pregnant women are at greater risk of severe illness and death. Since the H1N1 flu attacks a middle age range, this poses a serious challenge. Also the compromised immune systems of many Mexicans who live without adequate health and nutrition—a condition that includes a disproportionate number of women—contributes to flu mortality rates.

GRAIN reports that “Communities like La Gloria are on the front line of resistance to pandemics, but they are totally excluded from official responses or strategies … The link between factory farming and the growing threat of pandemic diseases in humans is undeniable, and even if governments and international agencies continue to toe the corporate line, local struggles against factory farms have assumed their rightful place at the center of the global response to emerging diseases.”

As these people’s movements grow throughout the world, we can expect more pushback from corporate factory farmers. Citizen networks need to organize to carry out and publicize independent studies, draft national and international policy proposals for greater regulation, conduct popular education campaigns on the risk of factory farms, and organize to wield greater force in changing the dangerous conditions posed by these farms to the entire world. (full text).

(Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen(a) is the director of the Americas Program ( for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City).

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