More Smithfield Experts Visit Farm in Mexico

GLOBAL - Smithfield Foods of the US has sent a second expert team to its farm in La Gloria, Mexico, where some believe that the influenza A H1N1 may have started. Local opinion is divided on the matter, and shows more concern over possible environmental impacts of the farm.
calendar icon 6 May 2009
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Smithfield Foods executives said they have sent a second team to the company's joint hog-farming operation in Veracruz, Mexico, including agriculture experts from a pair of universities, according to Daily News.

The company's CEO said the team, and a pending series of genetic tests on hogs raised at the massive Granjas Carroll operation, would likely clear Smithfield of any involvement in the spawning or spread of swine flu.

C. Larry Pope said Smithfield hired consultants from the University of Minnesota and North Carolina State University to be "an extra set of eyes."

"We want an open process here because we feel like this is something we have absolutely no responsibility for, and there is no one in the world who says we do except a couple of locals who have started something," Mr Pope said, referring to villagers in La Gloria, a town near the Mexican hog farm.

Mr Pope told WTKR Television and Daily Press that his company has been rattled by what he calls "mistaken identity."

Smithfield posted sales of $12 billion last year, making the company one of the largest meat producers in the world. Since the company was tied in media accounts to swine flu, its stock has dropped 17 per cent.

"We find a little boy in southern Mexico who gets sick, there happens to be a Smithfield facility close to that, boom, we have the linkage by some people's standards," Mr Pope said.

The little boy was five-year-old Edgar Hernandez. Mexican health authorities last month said they believed Edgar was the first to contract swine flu. He has since recovered.

His mother, Maria del Carmen, said she doesn't believe her child caught the flu from the pig farm, but she does worry that the lagoons of pig waste and the flies that feast on it have contaminated her village of La Gloria.

Several others in the village also got sick in April. When asked if she worries about the cleanliness of the well water, del Carmen said through a translator, "Yes, yes. Very much."

But Mr Pope insists the lagoons have not contaminated the groundwater. And, he says, no one from his company has seen the clouds of flies described by the locals. Pope says people in the area dislike the smell, and claims of mass sickness are either exaggerations or illnesses unrelated to farming.

In 1997, the company was fined more than $12 million for violating federal environmental regulations, and environmental activists in Mexico have picked up on Smithfield's past. Some say that once the US cracked down, Smithfield built a farm in Veracruz to escape tougher regulations.

Mr Pope denies that, and said the company underwent a cultural shift after the 1997 case.

"The number of people in this organisation who are focused exclusively on environmental (issues) is probably ten times the level we had in 1997," he said.

La Gloria villagers do not speak with one voice about the nearby hog farms. Some said the Smithfield operation is not the source of their seasonal sicknesses. Others said God controls their health, not the farm. But many said the odour, the flies and impure well water all contribute to their maladies, reports Daily News.

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