Everyone seems to be very concerned that the outbreak of swine flu means they'll have to stop eating bacon and other delicious pig products. While health officials have assured the public that you can't contract this flu from your breakfast sausage, meat consumption just might be at the heart of the possible pandemic. Residents of the area where swine flu originated, the state of Veracruz, Mexico, say that a local Smithfield confined-hog operation is to blame, with its poop lagoons and untreated waste polluting the area.

As far back as late March, roughly one-sixth of the residents in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz began complaining of respiratory infections that they say can be traced to a farm that lies upwind 8.5 kilometres to the north, in the town of Xaltepec.

But Jose Luis Martinez, a 34-year-old resident of La Gloria, said he knew the minute he learned about the outbreak on the news and heard a description of the symptoms: fever, coughing, joint aches, severe headache and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.

"When we saw it on the television, we said to ourselves, 'This is what we had,'" he said Monday. "It all came from here.… The symptoms they are suffering are the same that we had here."

Smithfield says it hasn't found swine flu in its eight industrial farms in the area, but that claim has yet to be independently verified. And it's worth noting that the last this "H1N1" virus popped up, in 1998, it was found in a North Carolina industrial pig farm. (I'm from Iowa, which isn't as hog-heavy as North Carolina, but I've certainly smelled a poop lagoon. Pig products are no longer part of my diet.)

So no, you don't have to give up your bacon because of the immediate swine flu threat. But if you want to actually diminish the risk of getting this or other potential animal-waste-borne illnesses, giving up factory-farmed meat might be a good idea.

--Ann Friedman

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