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Flu Scare Calls Attention to Animal Health

May 4, 2009

Spokane, WA – Over the weekend, the number of suspected H1N1 virus or "swine flu" cases reported in Washington topped two dozen. While there's been a lot of publicity about how to avoid getting the virus, the Pew Environment Group points out that it released a study last year predicting these types of problems, and said the focus should be on safer industrial farming practices.

Bob Martin, senior officer at Pew, says the fast-moving new strain of flu was not a surprise.

"It's a little bit frustrating when you issue a report and nothing happens, and then the situation that you fear comes to fruition. We considered it not a matter of if, but when it would happen. It's tragic."

The Washington Department of Agriculture already warns livestock producers to limit public access to their facilities, offer disinfectant and disposable footwear to employees, and track all incoming deliveries and animal purchases. Martin however says that despite such precautions the nature of industrial farming means health scares will continue.

"I think we have to change our food animal production system or this will just keep happening. The system itself is sick, and it's a little bit like treating a disease symptom without treating the cause of the disease."

Washington is not a major pork producer – but Martin says disease outbreaks also have been linked to cattle and poultry, and even seafood. The Pew report says crowded conditions make industrial farms breeding grounds for new viruses and bacteria that can easily be spread to humans.

The Pew report is online at www.ncifap.org. Updates are available from the Washington Department of Health at www.doh.wa.gov

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA