To preserve the appearance that they were actually doing something—anything—to protect Americans from mad cow disease, the USDA destroyed Linda and Larry Faillace’s entire flock of sheep—despite the fact the disease had never been present in sheep. A family’s livelihood was destroyed so the government could cover its ass. Linda Faillace wrote an account of the ordeal, Mad Sheep: The True Story Behind the USDA’s War on a Family Farm (Chelsea Green 2006).
I can’t help but see a parallel here between the Faillace’s situation and the situation of hog farmers in Egypt, where the government has begun the process of slaughtering all the pigs in the country—roughly 300,000 in all. No cases of swine flu have been reported there, and the disease is spreading by human to human contact. What the Egyptian government is doing to the animals and to the farmers in the name of public safety is futile and horrible.
The country was hit particularly hard by bird flu; it’s understandable the government would want to take precautions against a potential swine flu pandemic. But the circumstances are entirely different. In the absence of any evidence that slaughtering all the pigs will help prevent the spread of this new strain of flu, it’s hard to see this as anything but a wild overreaction.
[Note: Concerned about H1N1, or "swine flu"? The Center for Disease Control is on Twitter. You can follow their updates @CDCemergency, or http://www.twitter.com/cdcemergency.]
CAIRO â€“ Egypt began slaughtering the roughly 300,000 pigs in the country Wednesday as a precaution against swine flu even though no cases have been reported here, infuriating farmers who blocked streets and stoned vehicles of Health Ministry workers who came to carry out the government’s order.
The measure was a stark expression of the panic the deadly outbreak is spreading around the world, especially in poor countries with weak public health systems. Egypt responded similarly a few years ago to an outbreak of bird flu, which is endemic to the country and has killed two dozen people.
At one large pig farming center just north of Cairo, scores of angry farmers blocked the street to prevent Health Ministry workers in trucks and bulldozers from coming in to slaughter the animals. Some pelted the vehicles with rocks and shattered their windshields and the workers left without killing any pigs.
“We remind Hosni Mubarak that we are all Egyptians. Where does he want us to go?” said Gergis Faris, a 46-year-old pig farmer in another part of Cairo who collects garbage to feed his animals. “We are uneducated people, just living day by day and trying to make a living, and now if our pigs are taken from us without compensation, how are we supposed to live?”
Most in the Muslim world consider pigs unclean animals and do not eat pork because of religious restrictions. One Islamic militant Web site carried comments Wednesday saying swine flu was God’s revenge against “infidels.”
Pigs are banned entirely in some Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Libya. However in other parts of the Muslim world, they are often raised by religious minorities who can eat pork. [...]
“It is unfortunate,” the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech said of Egypt’s decision. “The crisis today is in transmission from human to human. It has nothing to do with pigs,” he told The Associated Press.