Archive for April 30, 2009
A Tale of Two Stories: Blogs and Mainstream Media Coverage of Swine Flu/H1N1 Virus
Columbia Journalism Review
Here at BFIA, we're always interested in following what the media are up to. The Swine Flu/H1N1 Virus story is particularly compelling in its multiple layers of issues – where did it start, what do we do about it, how do you catch it, what do we call it, how do we spin (politicize) it, and what are the economic implications if there were to be a pandemic, and IF big ag is ultimately implicated?
As is frequently the case, the blogosphere and MSM are offering different perspectives on the topic. On blogs you can find more about the CAFO connection, MSM may give that a mention, but so far, no one has focused much on that aspect of the story (although the story evolves daily). CJR helpfully put together a representative sampling of stories by both MSM (NY Times, WAPO, WSJ, etc.) and blogs (Grist, Biosurveillance, Huffpo), excerpted below. There is a great deal more out there on the food blogs and environmental blogs, too numerous to include today. If you can read Spanish, the local reporting in the Mexican newspapers, two of which are cited below, is of interest. There is also a flu analysis at Scientific American.
And just for the record, BFIA would like to include the following statement made during a briefing on Tuesday by former Governor of Iowa, current US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack:
of hardworking families whose livelihood depends on us conveying this
message of safety…and we want to reinforce the fact that we're doing
everything we possibly can to make sure that our hog industry is sound
and safe and to make sure that consumers in this country and around the
world know that American products are safe.”
Swine Flu and CAFOs: Blogs call for more coverage; MSM hesitant
By Curtis Brainard
In the search for the swine flu outbreak’s “ground zero,” blogs have called upon mainstream media to investigate the potential role of large factory farms in breeding and spreading the virus.
Major news outlets have tentatively begun to do just that over the last two days. Reports have focused on the town of La Gloria, Mexico, where the first known victim was identified. (He has since recovered.) La Gloria is located close to a million-pig farm, Granjas Carroll, which is partly owned by Smithfield Foods, an American company that is the world’s largest producer and processor of pork products.
So far, however, there is no evidence of a direct connection between the farm and the swine flu virus. But there are reasons to both suspect and doubt that such a connection exists, and this has led to sporadic arguments among reporters covering the outbreak about the line between asking tough questions and jumping to conclusions.
The first blogger to implicate industrial hog farms was Grist’s food editor, Tom Philpott, in a Saturday post headlined, “Swine-flu outbreak could be linked to Smithfield factory farms.” Philpott cited a swine-flu timeline posted by the blog Biosurveillance, as well as articles in the Mexican newspapers La Marcha and La Jornada, which had reported that residents of La Gloria suspected the Granjas Carroll farm of spreading sickness via “clouds of flies” that travelled between the two.
At The Huffington Post on Sunday, freelance reporter David Kirby, Swine Flu Outbreak – Nature Biting Back at Industrial Animal Production?, commented on the recent spread of industrial-scale hog farms, or confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), in Mexico; and on Monday, Mexican Lawmaker: Factory Farms Are “Breeding Grounds” of Swine Flu Pandemic.
Tom Yulsman at the Center for Environmental Journalism on Tuesday, in a blog post headlined, “What mainstream media aren’t telling you about the swine flu outbreak,” pointed to a recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which found that “Animals in such close confinement, along with some of the feed and animal management methods employed in the system, increase pathogen risks and magnify opportunities for transmission from animals to humans.”
Major outlets have been far more skeptical and restrained in their reporting about the CAFO hypothesis, however. The reason is that, so far, authorities have yet to find an infected pig in Mexico, let alone at the Granjas Carroll farm. None of the pig farm’s workers appears to be sick, either.
The result is that most mainstream news articles—such as those in The New York Times, The Washington Post,and The Wall Street Journal—have included only a paragraph or two about Granjas Carroll in larger stories about La Gloria being a prime candidate for the flu outbreak’s origin. The Associated Press and CNN’s Sanjay Gupta visited Granjas Carroll, but only the former got in. For now, the only people who are “convinced” that the CAFO is at fault are the residents of La Gloria.
The Times of London and The Independent ran articles. The Guardian has run two op-eds: here and here
The World Health Organization reiterated that one cannot contract the virus by eating pork, and pointed out that no pig had been found yet with this particular virus.