Swine flu – a very capitalist illness

Swine flu is, for some people, a highly profitable business. A report in yesterday’s Times pointed to the business bonanza coming on the back of swine flu. Other, less mainstream sources have pointed to the commercial interest that some producers of flu remedies might have in stoking up the panic.

But there is an increasing sense that the disease itself may originate in capitalist farming practices. Johann Hari, writing in the Independent, argues that factory farming, in which vast numbers of animals live together in conditions that greatly increase the risk of destructive strains of viruses developing, quoting in particular a report by the Center for Computational Biology at Columbia University which has been tracing the ancestry of the current outbreak.

He also describes how factory farming is dependent on pumping animals full of anti-biotics, while keeping animals in an environment in which bacteria can develop in ways which make them resistant to those anti-biotics.

It’s a horrifying scenario, and it’s not surprising that capitalist agriculture is deep in denial. And the fact that swine flu in the UK has not really (so far) lived up to the advance billing makes it that much more difficult to generate the sort of public concern that might shake the political class out of its complacency. We’re still waiting for the big one, and no government or regulator is going to want to be seen to raise the price of meat and especially cheap meat products unless the call for change is deafening.

But it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that cheap meat in the shops comes with a much higher and deadlier price tag than most people imagine, and that, as so often, the drive for corporate profit may have the deadliest of consequences.

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