I was honored to be asked by Deputy (their preferred term for Representative or Congressperson) Diego Cobo Terrazas, a Green Party (Partido Verde) member, to speak to members of the Congreso de Mexico about how factory farming can help facilitate the spread of disease. Deputy Cobo is young, energetic, and a big fan of Worldwatch-he told me that when the swine flu outbreak first occurred last April, he immediately thought of the Worldwatch paper I authored a few years ago entitled Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry, which looks at avian flu, Nipah virus, and other emerging diseases that can be spread from animals to humans. What a relief that policymakers actually do read what I write.
My talk was attended by not only Senadores, Deputados and reporters, but also by some of Mexico City’s environmental activists, including such diverse voices as the former head of Mexico’s National Zoo and the president of a leading animal advocacy group. Deputy Cobo arranges similar presentations every week to encourage the Congress as well as average citizens to learn more about environmental issues.
I focused on describing the problems inherent on factory farms that can help spread disease-crowded, filthy conditions, inadequate ventilation, the inability of animals to perform their natural behaviors-but also tried to stress that there are alternatives to this rapidly spreading form of animal agriculture. Although industrial systems are now responsible for 67 percent of broiler production, 50 percent of egg production, and 42 percent of pork production worldwide, there are alternatives to these systems that are better for public health and the environment. These include pasture-raised, intensive rotational grazing systems, and organic systems, as well as animal welfare improvements and stricter environmental regulations on existing factory farms.
Deputy Cobo is trying to arrange for me to visit the state of Vera Cruz where Granjas Carroll, the factory farm where the outbreak is believed to have originated, is located. Understandably, the Agriculture Department here is skeptical of having a foreign environmentalist come look at these farms. Keep your fingers crossed-I’ll let you know what I find out there.