City Desk

Swine Flu Scams: A Pandemic!

Don’t you just love it when you get your own anecdote to back up a news story?

Today, an unusual offer arrived in my inbox: a sales pitch for swine flu vaccine. All I’d have to do is send in my contact info. and a major credit card and the cure would arrive in the mail. Depending on how bad the pandemic gets, it could be a decent deal. Sure, whoever sent me the email could steal my credit card number or completely make off with my identity before proffering the precious antidote. But, at least, I’d be protected against the dreaded scourge, know officially as the global H1N1 flu pandemic.

 OK, OK, so you’re on to me; I have no intention of providing my personal information to swine flu scammers. But, there must be some takers. The Food and Drug Administration has launched a crackdown on Internet purveyors of bogus flu cures.

AFTER THE JUMP: More on Internet scams and a new twist on pork-barrel politics.

Among the “unapproved, uncleared, or unauthorized” merchandise FDA officials have found in THEIR inboxes are shampoos, dietary supplements and anti-virus sprays. There is even an “electronic instrument” that supposedly uses “deeply penetrating mega-frequency life-force energy waves” to strengthen the immune system, protect against the flu, and God knows what else.

Speaking of swine scams, the pork industry is fighting congressional efforts to strengthen regulation of the country's food system. If enacted, the new rules would cover, among other things, the industrial-sized pig farms similar to the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, CAFOs, in Mexico, where swine flu allegedly got its start.

In a case of curious timing, one day after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, the National Pork Producers Council announced it had “a number of concerns” about the Food Safety and Enhancement Act of 2009, which passed a vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health last week.

The trade association says it’s unnecessary to give the FDA authority to inspect farms, enforce animal quarantines and build a “farm-to-fork” system to trace public health threats back to the source. From the Pork Council’s POV, the Department of Agriculture already plays an oversight role, and it would be one big hassle for farmers to have to comply with a new set of federal rules.

In the wake of numerous food-related illness outbreaks – spinache, tomatoes, avocados, mad cow beef, etc – some may point out that the Department of Agriculture’s efforts have been far from robust. 

Beyond the food-borne illnesses, however, there is a swine flu angle here: The Pork Council also objects to letting the FDA set farm safety standards on such things as employee hygiene and what to do with all that manure – the very issues gadflies suggest may have played a role in incubating swine flu and passing it along to humans.

Those are suggestions that the pork council would like to slaughter. Ever since the pandemic made international news, the industry has been working overtime to convince consumers that their pigs have nothing to do with it. And, even some public health pundits have exonerated the massive Mexican pig farms and say CAFOs aren’t necessarily unsanitary.

But not all the experts are sure CAFOs are so healthy. Last year, the Pew Charitable Trusts published a report that concluded the industrial-scale farms often pose “unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves." 

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