Sunday, May 10, 2009

Swine to brinjal: We have no escape


Cartoon :

Imagine, if you can, five lakh pigs in one enormous lot. Now imagine them crammed into a narrow factory, crammed so tight that many are trampled to death by others. They stay there for months, feed there, fatten there unnaturally fast and are finally slaughtered there.

Imagine, if you still can, five lakh pigs shitting and peeing in a confined space. The vast cesspools of excreta that are formed are euphemistically known in trade circles as lagoons. A pig produces three times the excrement of a human. So a five-lakh pig population, the standard strength of a factory, will produce as much fecal matter as the entire human population of Bangalore, Mangalore, Hubli and Dharwar put together.

This horrendous mass of excreta is highly toxic as well. Because factory pigs are ingested with huge amounts of antibiotics, vaccines and insecticides. Add to that the rotting bodies of still-born pigs and dead ones. Naturally the lagoons of highly poisonous filth have killed rivers and whole populations of fish. The meat products coming out of these filthily maintained pigs in these unimaginably filthy environment is marketed as “simply the finest pork money can buy”.

If you can imagine all this without feeling sick in the stomach, then you are beginning to understand why the world is periodically assaulted by potential mass killers like the Swine Flu.

Everyone knows that the current swine flue started in Mexico. But not widely publicized is the fact that the world’s largest pig products company, the Smithfield Corporation of America, is behind it. In fact corporate publicity has been focusing on the message that “you cannot get swine flu by eating pork”.

Smithfield factories kill 270 lakh pigs in a typical year. That is enough stinking lagoons to drown 81 million humans, or the entire population of Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Beijing, Tokyo, Jakarta, Mexico City and New York City combined. Imagine, if you dare.

To dispose of so much muck is terribly expensive. So the company does not bother. For violating basic rules about food and environmental safety, Smithfield was once fined $ 42.6 million. Currently it is under US Federal investigation for toxic environmental damage caused by pig excrements. When we see those masked passengers and doctors and nurses at the world’s airports, think of what profit-chasing corporations do in their greed.

Smithfield is by no means an exception. It’s only months since America reeled under the scandal of deaths from eating peanut butter. Through carelessness salmonella poison had contaminated this universally popular food item. The Peanut Corporation of America, the world’s largest, was forced to close down.

The damage done by the McDonald’s culture is of course an old story. The real point is that fast food chains have completely changed the way potatoes are planted and cattle stocks are raised and slaughtered. ( Those who like throwing up may wish to read the book “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser).

Kollogg’s is a respected name in the world of packaged breakfasts. Yet, a few years ago, it was found selling a product made with Star Link corn, a genetically altered variety not approved for human consumption.

Genetically altered food is beginning to consume us too. We don’t even have inspectors and testing systems that are above board. Such official agencies as we have often collude with genetic engineers. Corn or brinjal unfit for human consumption may well be on our plates, and we won’t even know. Maybe swine flu is safer.