U.S. pork plant in Mexico near confirmed case of swine fluEdit

Sunday, May 17, 2009


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See also: Live map of swine flu, H1N1 live map

As the world's eyes set on Mexico as the source of the swine flu outbreak, concerns have been raised about one of the first confirmed cases of the disease occurring near one of U.S. pork meat giant Smithfield Foods's subsidiary plants in Mexico, prompting authorities to investigate, eventually concluding they had found no sick pigs.

Smithfield, the world's largest pork meat producer, owns a plant 8 kilometers from the town of La Gloria, municipality of Perote of the Mexican state of Veracruz, under the name Granjas Carroll de México.

In 2006 the inhabitants of La Gloria started complaining about the company's handling of its waste, and the subsequent pollution of the local environment. Their concerns included pig corpses being disposed of in the open, oxidation lagoons generating swarms of flies, and the filtration of waste into the aquifers.

Last march a local outbreak of respiratory tract infections was reported by the inhabitants of La Gloria, the vector being established by the Mexican Social Security Institute as the fly swarms from Smithfield's pig farms and oxidation lagoons, although the company denied responsibility and dismissed their ailments as flu. Residents currently recall the symptoms as being similar to the ones accompanying the current outbreak of swine influenza. Perote environmentalist Dulce María Serrano commented that she considers it strange that the outbreak in Mexico City was announced just after the spring break, during which many local families living in Mexico City visited La Gloria.

Government officials sent a set of samples abroad to test for the presence of the swine flu virus just before the Mexico City outbreak was announced. Due to the precedent of Veracruz, one of these samples came from Édgar Hernández Hernández, a four year old infant from La Gloria who had already recovered from the local disease. It was the only one from that state that tested positive.

“Based on available recent information, Smithfield has no reason to believe that the virus is in any way connected to its operations in Mexico”, read a news release regarding swine flu by Smithfield Foods. It also stated that their stock is vaccinated against influenza virus and is checked monthly for swine influenza.

The company stated through its subsidiary in Veracruz that, according to the World Health Organization, the virus is not of American origin, but Eurasian. Furthermore, Smithfield claimed that the first cases appeared in the United States, Mexico therefore being not the generator but the receptor of the disease.

While reaffirming that it has still found no presence of swine flu in any of its worldwide operations, Smithfield Foods said that it had sent samples from one of its plants in Mexico to Mexican authorities for testing. It also stated that it has no operations in Canada, after the first human-to-animal transmission of the virus was reported there.

"No sick people or pigs, nor with respiratory or diarrheic treatment [sic] were observed in the farm or in the houses, and we can therefore conclude that pork meat consumption poses no health risk", affirmed Miguel Ángel Toscano Velasco, head of the Federal Committee of Health Risk Protection, following a visit by the organization to La Gloria two months after the local outbreak. Although no mention was made about the company's pollution of the environment, he did state, in contradiction to the National Water Committee's previous findings, that no waste filters out of the oxidation lagoons.

During La Gloria's rise to international fame due to the presence of the press from countries like China, France, Qatar, United States, Brazil, South Korea and Venezuela reporting on these incidents, Édgar and his family were out of town for a week, on a trip to the beach by invitation of Governor Fidel Herrera Beltrán. Edgar's parents also received 10000 pesos from Herrera.

An investigation published in Science by a research team from the UK, Mexico and Switzerland assessing the pandemic potential of the virus stated that the first case of the new strain was seen in La Gloria in mid-February, although they provided no evidence for this claim and based it on previous reports. One of the team's conclusions is that, judging from the pattern in La Gloria, the virus seems to have been transmitted from human to human between 14 and 73 times.

National Autonomous University of Mexico's Institute of Bacteriological Research Director Carlos Arias Ortiz stated that a collaborative research with the University of Veracruz will begin in mid-May to determine whether the swine flu virus originated in La Gloria.

Second U.S. A(H1N1) victim's husband Steven Trunnell filed a petition against Smithfield Foods to investigate the claims that the outbreak started in the plant near La Gloria, which could develop into a wrongful-death suit against the company. Smithfield declined to comment on the matter.

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U.S. agencies to cooperate to reduce arms smuggling into MexicoEdit

Friday, July 3, 2009

A gun show in the United States
The US-Mexico border crossing in Nogales

After a report by the United States Government Accountability Office warned of government agencies in the United States failing to coordinate their efforts to stem illicit arms trafficking towards Mexico, ICE and ATF agencies have signed an agreement to boost their cooperation.

According to the GAO report, their lack of coordination has been leading to confusion, with some operations unknowingly being performed simultaneously by both agencies. There was even an instance in which an ICE agent unknowingly kept watch over an undercover ATF agent. "We're not going to be having two independent initiatives; we're going to have one coordinated effort to go after firearms trafficking and related violence on this side of the border and the other side of the border", said assistant secretary for ICE John Morton after signing the agreement with ATF director Kenneth Melson.

The report stated that the flow of increasingly lethal weapons, many from weapon stores and gun shows in the southwestern United States, "fueled the drug trafficking violence" in recent years, which now poses a threat for the safety of the population on both sides of the border. According to ATF spokesman Drew Wade, trafficked arms from the United States account for 90 percent of firearms seized by Mexican authorities. Most of those weapons are of U.S. manufacture.

"We're going to look at that report in the rearview mirror as just a bump in the road", stated Morton.

Meanwhile, Mexican authorities have announced that in late August they will start screening cars entering Mexican territory from the United States, which raised concerns among businessmen on the northern side of the border that the measure will affect commerce. While Mexican officials responded that they would take into account their concerns, they declared that national security is the top priority.

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