canarypapers

Posts Tagged ‘pharmaceutical industry

Health Care Apples & Oranges: UPS and Fedex vs. the U.S. Postal Service

with 3 comments

Keep your socialistic hands off my mailbox!

Keep yer socialistic hands off my mailbox!

I winced the instant I heard Obama say it. Of all the ways to allay a citizen’s fear that “government-run” health care would drive the private, for-profit insurance industry out of business:  

As long as they have a good product … private insurers should be able to compete with the government plan. They do it all the time…UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. . . . It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.”

It’s not that Obama was wrong. It’s not that he’s right, either. It’s just that he’s talking apples and oranges. And debates over apples and oranges don’t lend themselves to being settled in screaming matches at town hall meetings. I wish Obama’d stuck to the script: using Medicare — or, better still, the Veterans Administration health care system — as a model for universal health care, explaining how private insurance does and could continue to compliment this system. But since he didn’t compare apples to apples, and since he did throw the debate onto the kitchen table, let’s do it. Let’s talk apples and oranges. Starting here:

mailboxWhat if, instead of health care, this debate was over private mail carriers vs. government mail carriers?

What if the U.S. Postal Service had never been born, so to speak? What if it cost $12 to mail a letter from Georgia to California? Or if mail delivery was only available to folks living in big cities?

And what if, in response, there were a bunch of mail service reformers  pushing to enact a government-run mail delivery service to compete with the private, for-profit delivery service, so that everyone could afford to send letters to Grandma? And what if these reformers proposed that this new government-run mail service could deliver that $12 letter for a mere  44-cents to anywhere in the country? Would folks be taking to streets with guns strapped to their sides, yollering “Keep yer socialist goverment hands off my mailbox!” ?

Probably.

I say this because we are currently involved in a remarkably similar debate: Pay $2,700 per year, out of pocket, for total medical care for a family of four, OR pay from $7,000 up to $100,000 (and upwards) out of pocket (depending on whether you’re part of an  employee group plan or are going it alone), OR cross your fingers and hope you don’t get sick.  Here are the details on your choices: 

  1. If you’re among the 63% of non-elderly Americans who are lucky enough to receive medical insurance through your employer, you can continue paying an average of nearly $7,000 total out-of-pocket medical costs per year for a family of four. (The breakdown: $2,820 employee share of insurance premium + $4,004 deductibles, copays, etc. + $9,947 employer share of insurance premiums = $16,771 total medical expense outlay per year  for a middle-income family of four). And if you’re lucky, you won’t be among the three-quarters of a million Americans WITH health insurance this year who will be forced into bankruptcy because of your medical bills. 
  2. If you’re among the 23% of non-elderly Americans who are not lucky enough to receive medical insurance through their employers, nor through a government plan, you can can keep doing what they’re doing:  
    1. Buy comparable insurance to your employee-covered counterparts at a much higher rate (well over $13,000 per year), OR buy “affordable” insurance with high deductible and co-pays. 
    2. Continue neglecting or going without health care entirely
    3. Be among the projected total of nearly 1 million Americans this year who will be forced into bankruptcy due to medical bills.
  3. OR: Support a Medicare-for-all plan (also called H.R. 676, universal health care, the single-payer plan) for which you would pay $2,700 total out-of-pocket medical costs per year for a family of four. ( The breakdown: $2,700 insurance premium + $0 deductibles, copays, etc = $2,700 total medical cost per year for a middle-income family of four).

But let’s get back to those apples and oranges

Those opposed to health care reform have loved sinking their teeth into Obama’s Post Office analogy. And who could blame them? It’s an easy enough target — made all the more so by the fact that no one’s challenged them with dollars-and-cents realities of the Post Office debate. Since no one else bothered, I will.

Knowing how fond some folks are of choice — and how profoundly un-fond they are having the government’s hands all over their lives — I’m pleased to remind Americans everywhere that you DO have a choice. No one is forcing you to allow the government to get its socialist hands all over your lives. Take a stand against government intrusion!  

Next month, don’t send your water bill through the Post Office. Send it via UPS or Fedex. And this Christmas, when you mail out your greeting cards, don’t send them through the Post Office. Send your holiday cards through UPS or Fedex. Americans, you DO have choices! Here they are:

  • The U.S. Post Office will deliver 20 Christmas cards in 2 to 3 days for $8.80.
  • UPS will deliver 20 Christmas cards in 2 to 3 days for $239.00
  • Fedex will deliver 20 Christmas cards in 3 days for $235.20.

This isn’t to bash UPS and Fedex. It’s to underscore the fact that comparing these two private carriers to the U.S. Postal Service is like comparing apples to oranges. For one thing, they don’t even offer the same services. Unlike UPS and Fedex — the U.S. Postal Service maintains a daily delivery route covering nearly every home and business address in this country, to which they deliver mail 6 days per week. And their rates are affordable to the average Joe, like me, who wants to mail a letter to Grandma.

Yeah, yeah, I know: the Post Office has a monopoly on First Class mail — which has, for years, been a burr in the side of conservatives and libertarians, who believe this monopoly should be broken. “Give it to the free market!” they cry. But the fact is, no one else wants this job. Not unless they can, like the insurance industry, claim executive privledge to deny delivery to unprofitable cutomers. What would be the fate, then, of a 44-cent letter addressed to, say, Lost Springs, Wyoming?

lost springs

 

Were private enterprise to take over First Class mail delivery, they’d right away skim off the cream — all the delivery routes in high density populations of cities and towns — and leave to the Postal Service, or to no one, the rural customers, who are nothing but a gross money suck to the profit margin. Then the government would either have to subsidize rural deliveries, or allow private enterprise to charge higher rates.

Choice is all well and good, see, so long as I’ve got mine. To hell with the rest of you.

Oranges vs. Oranges: UPS and Fedex vs. the Private Insurance Industry

UPS and Fedex are efficient, profitable businesses that deliver on time, every time, as promised. Not so with the insurance industry. These carriers are prone to dragging their heels — sometimes denying delivery entirely. We’ve heard enough horror stories to know that these are not exceptions, but the rule to running a profitable business. 

According to a recent study by the California Nurses’ Association, claims denial rates by leading California insurers during the first six months of 2009 averaged 30%. Here’s the breakdown of denial rates, per insurance carrier:

  • PacifiCare — 39.6 percent
  • Cigna — 32.7 percent
  • HealthNet — 30 percent
  •  Kaiser Permanente — 28.3 percent
  • Blue Cross — 27.9 percent
  • Aetna — 6.4 percent

The Post Office is the apple in this equation. Were the Post Office to run like the insurance industry, then mail workers could begin sorting letter according to profitability — throwing into the trash any 44-cent letter that was deemed too unprofitable to deliver. 

Apples vs. Apples: Old and Disabled People vs. a 44-cent Letter to Lost Springs

As any insurance underwriter could tell you, Medicare currently covers some of the most costly patients on the market — folks that the insurance industry wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole — the elderly and the disabled. 

But what if, into this Medicare system, were added a mix of college age kids, thirty-somethings, forth-somethings and fifty-somethings? By incorporating a pool of healthy, low-cost individuals into the system, Medicare would more closely approximate the business model of the private insurance industry, which — by spreading the risk — rakes in billions upon billions in profit each year.

Except that Medicare would not rake in billions in profit because (a) the premiums would be a fraction of that paid to private insurers, and (b) Medicare would use the premiums for the purpose they were intended — to provide medical care — rather than squandering it in advertising, lobbying and executive pay. (As an example of this squandering, UnitedHealth Group compensates just one of its top executives at a rate of $819,000 per day. That’s a almost $103,000 per hour paid to just one CEO at UnitedHealth Group!)

Medicare would not need to spend billions per year in advertising, lobbying and lining the pockets of those industries (pharmaceutical, medical supplies, hospitals, oil & energy, etc.) that lobby on their behalf. In 2008, for instance, the top lobbyist in the U.S. was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent nearly $92 million on lobbying, some of this on behalf of their friends in the insurance industry. Exxon, another friend to the insurance industry, was the 2nd top lobbyist, spending $29 million. AARP, another friend, was the 3rd top lobbyists at nearly $28 million. Go down the list of the top lobbyists of 2008, and you will be hard-pressed to find one that is in favor of true health care reform. These are the folks who fill the campaign coffers of our politicians. With friends like this, who needs constituents?  

  • US Chamber of Commerce $91,725,000
  • Exxon Mobil $29,000,000
  • AARP $27,900,000
  • PG&E Corp $27,250,000
  • Northrop Grumman $20,743,252
  • American Medical Assn $20,555,000
  • Pharmaceutical Rsrch & Mfrs of America $20,220,000
  • American Hospital Assn $20,102,684
  • Koch Industries $20,023,000
  • General Electric $19,379,000
  • Verizon Communications $18,020,000
  • National Assn of Realtors $17,340,000
  • Boeing Co $16,610,000
  • Lockheed Martin $15,961,506
  • Blue Cross/Blue Shield $15,560,165
  • AT&T Inc $15,076,675
  • National Cable & Telecommunications Assn $14,500,000
  • Southern Co $14,080,000
  • Altria Group $13,840,000

These numbers are following a similar path in 2009, except that there are a higher number of health care lobbyists in the mix, such as the AMA (the American Medical Association), which have stepped up the plate to fight health care reform, with the AMA spending $8.5 million on lobbying during in the first quarter of 2009.  

Here, a reminder is in order: The American Medical Association is not a professional association of doctors — as is widely believed — but is, in fact, a concert of insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists composed of paid doctors and other medical professionals.  Which makes all the more reprehensible the repeated references to the AMA throughout the health care debates — as if the AMA were the voice of doctors and the medical profession. Nothing could be further from the truth. No, the majority of doctors are in favor of single-payer health care, which is why they were given police escorts out of the health care hearings this past May. 

Add to these lobbyists the stockholders who drive the insurance industry agenda, with stock prices plummeting every time the least amoung of progress is made by health care reformers. Under our current system, it is the stockholders and insurance execs — not our doctors — who determine which patients do (and do not) receive medical care. 

A Dirty Little Secret

There’s a reason the insurance and pharmaceutical industries and their stockholders feel threatened by health care reform. It’s because they know that a Medicare-for-all plan, such as H.R. 676, will not only support itself — easily being revenue neutral — but could do this while also providing all the services it promises. This is the dirty little secret that has so far been covered up by the insurance industry’s scare campaigns about death panels and socialist plots. Medicare-for-all is not a socialist plot, but a delivery system to provide comprehensive medical care services, most of which the private insurance industry wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole: 

  • Every resident of the US will be covered from birth to death.
  • No more pre-existing conditions to be excluded from coverage.
  • No more expensive deductibles or co-pays.
  • All prescription medications will be covered.
  • All dental and eye care will be included.
  • Mental health and substance abuse care will be fully covered.
  • Long term and nursing home services will be included.
  • You will always choose your own doctors and hospitals.
  • Costs of coverage will be assessed on a sliding scale basis.
  • Tremendously simplified system of medical administration
  • Total portability – your coverage not tied to any job or location.
  • Existing Medicare benefits for those over 65 will remain the same or be vastly improved in many cases.
  • No corporate bureaucrat will ever come between you and your doctor to deny your care

In other words, instead of Americans footing the bill for the insurance industry’s $1.5 million per day lobbying campaign and for $103,000 per hour CEO compensation, Americans would be paying into a Medicare plan that would foot the bill for their own damned health care.

Sure, the insurance industry could still turn a profit by delivering that 44-cent letter to Lost Springs, Wyoming. But could they turn an obscene profit? No. That’s why they’re content to let their customers lie and rot in the dead letter office.

The pity is that Medicare-for-all  — which was the choice of 60 to 70% of Americans up until this June, when the insurance industry began its fearmongering, smear campaign in earnest — was never even on the table. Instead, backroom deals were cut between Capitol Hill and the insurance and pharmaceutical industries — two of the most lucrative contributors to our politicians’ campaign coffers. The single-payer, Medicare-for-all advocates were, in fact, barred from the table. The medical doctors who attended the health care reform hearings and demanded a seat at the table were given police-escorts out of the room and were arrested to the accompaniment of laughter and ridicule by the invited guests.

More Apples

As someone who’s done a lot of shipping through my work, I can claim some authority on the topic of mailing and shipping. I offer no defense of the U.S. Postal Service. What began in Benjamin Franklin’s day as an effort to ensure the free exchange of information among the citizenry has grown into a semi-independent behemoth of a business/government agency.

On one hand, the Post Office spits out copious wads of junk mail into our mailboxes each day. On the other hand, they faithfully deliver letters 6 days a week for the everyday Joe, like me, for only 44¢ each. And, if you’re shipping a package that’s less than 10 lbs. and measures less than 1-foot x 1-foot x 1-foot, the Post Office is generally cheaper than UPS or Fedex. On the other hand, their tracking system is inferior to UPS and Fedex, whose packages can be tracked from California to Georgia with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Obama was incorrect when he said that the U.S. Postal Service is “always having problems.” Fact is, they’ve generally kept their heads above water. But they were hit hard beginning in 2007 — along with the rest of us — by the double-whammy of high fuel prices and our collapsing economy. So were Fedex and UPS and nearly every other business and agency in this country. Since then, the price of a stamp has risen by a nickel — from  39¢ to 44¢ — and the Post Office has also increased its shipping rates, as have Fedex and UPS, their increases ranging from 4.9% to 6.9% each year.  

All three of these carriers, like most businesses, have seen declining profits over the past 2 years.

More Oranges

Not so for the insurance industry, which is still making gains on the 428% industry profit increase it realized from 2000 to 2007 (according to Standard and Poor’s),  during which time the industry raised health care premiums by 87%. In 2008, they raised it by another 5%. The figures aren’t yet in for 2009, but with their current profits being deemed, “record profits,” it’s a safe bet they’re not slashing jobs, nor are the insurance CEOs feeling in any pain or any fear over their salaries/compensation. To be fair, not all insurance execs make $103,000 per hour (three-quarters of a billion per year). The average insurance industry CEO makes only $14.2 million per year.   

By comparison, the total 2008 salary/compensation for the CEO at Fedex was $10.9 million. The total 2008 salary/compensation for the CEO at UPS was $5.6 million. Congressed raised the salary for the Postmaster General in 2007, to be more competitive with private industry. As such, in 2008 the Postmaster General received a total salary/compensation of $1.35 million ($235k salary + $800k in bonuses and deferred retirement benefits).  

The Bellwethers of our U.S. Health

As the preferred shipper for small businesses, UPS (United Parcel Service) is extremely sensitive to changes in the economy. As such, this company is widely viewed as a bellwether for the U.S. economy, its profit margin serving as an indicator of the flow of commerce. It’s been a gloomy year so far, with UPS revenues down in both the 1st and 2nd quarters. The company’s 2nd quarter earnings fell by 49%, with per share earnings falling to 44-cents a share from 85-cents a share a year earlier.  Their 2nd quarter revenue fell by 16.7% — to $10.83 billion from $13.00 billion a year earlier.

The picture’s been a bit rosier for the insurance industry. By contrast, the 2nd quarter earnings for Wellpoint, the nation’s largest health insurer, fell by a mere 0.7% — declining to $1.43 from $1.44 per share one year ago. Wellpoint’s 2nd quarter revenues fell by 1.6% from a year earlier — declining to $15.41 billion from $15.67 billion.  

Wellpoint attributes this revenue decline to, primarily, a “lower commercial membership,” which they offset by raising premiums to their other customers. In plainspeak, this means that — despite that Wellpoint lost 1.1 million customers over the past year (that’s the number of folks who lost their insurance with Wellstone when they lost their jobs) — the company has suffered only a slight nick to their profit margin by raising premiums.  Wellpoint projects another tiny nick by year’s end, by which time they expect to lose another 600,000 members. Nonetheless, analysts predict a revenue total $61.39 billion for fiscal 2009, just a touch less than their $61.58 billion revenue for fiscal 2008. 

The picture is even rosier for UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s second largest insurer, whose 2nd quarter profit more than doubled from a year earlier, with per share earnings rising to 73-cents from 27-cents a year earlier. Their revenues increased to $21.66 billion for the second quarter — up 7% from a year earlier.

UnitedHealth acknowledges that their 2008 profits would have been greater, if not for the $895 million settlement paid out to the shareholders who filed a class action lawsuit against UnitedHealth for stock options backdating. Still, UnitedHealth is looking to the future, which is looking so bright in the wake of this summer’s health care wars, that insurance industry investors need sunglasses just to see. 

“Trust me,” said one financial analyst. “It’s not fun to lose 895 million dollars in this way. But investors look forward. This is the past.”

This $895 million settlement is not to be confused with the two other class action lawsuit filed against UnitedHealth, which were settled earlier this year to the tune of $450 million in restitution to the physicians and policyholders that UnitedHealth spent a decade or more cheating — policyholders who were intentionally robbed through a billing system designed to covertly underpay their claims.   

It is to these kings of industry that that our leaders on Capitol Hill have decided to entrust the health and well-being of the American citizenry. 

The challenge to health care reform, according to President Obama, is to keep the kings honest. It’s not about offering Medicare-for-all, so that every single citizen can afford to go to the doctor. Nor is about explaining, once and for all, what exactly the words, “public option” mean — an option which, as it turns out, was never an option at all, just more political theater. No, the key to reform is keeping the kings honest. And the way to doing this is to give them more money, plus 50 million new customers. See, the government will help pay our premiums to the kings, since we can no longer afford to do so. And if the kings don’t treat us kindly after that, well then, by golly — next time around — heads will surely roll. 

 Apples to Oranges, Dust to Dust

In the same way that UPS serves as the bellwether for the economic health of our country, Wellpoint and United Health serve as bellwethers to the state of medical care in this country. As for our politicians? They’re the bellwethers of America’s moral pulse.

It’s thready, at best. After all, we’re a nation on life support. But the family is engaged in fullscale denial. They’re the ones standing outside in the hallway holding signs that read, “Keep yer goddamn hands off my health care!”

For these folk, the news is good, for now. No one’s going to put their hands on anyone’s health care. No one’s gonna force the poor folk and the middle income folk into having equal rights to see a doctor, the way the rich folk do. No one’s gonna stand in the way of the insurance industry while it systematically sucks every last dime out of every last pocket until, at last, the economy entirely collapses — by which time, unlike the fall of 2008, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men…. Well, you get the picture.

Remember this next time you bitch about the price of a 44-cent stamp. While there are plenty of folk in this country who can afford a $239 Christmas card list, there are plenty more who can’t. The alternative to the Post Office monopoly on 44-cent stamp is a fight like we’ve seen this summer, rife with gun-totin’ folk lovin’ on American and hatin’ on socialist plots. In the end, the government will still end up subsidizing someone, because ain’t no capitalist enterprise gonna pony up the money to hoof that 14-cent letter to Lost Springs, much less foot all the doctors bills they promise to pay. Not without a fight.  

_____________________________

by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers

_____________________________

Advertisements

Making Silk Purses Out of Swine Flu

leave a comment »

 When I was in my twenties, I rented a small house previously occupied by a pig farmer. Fortunately, the only vestige of the former tenant (aside a thick layer of grease about the kitchen) was a subscription to a hog farming magazine, which dutifully arrived every month. I read the things with a mix of engrossment and horror, learning all sorts of curious facts about pig farming. For instance, I never knew before then that — despite the best efforts of pig farmers — a certain percentage of pigs are sent to slaughter with hypodermic needles still imbedded in their flesh, accidentally broken off during the various vaccinations and treatments to which pigs are subjected during their incarceration. From this group, a certain percentage of this needled meat (having slipped under the radar of the metal detectors used in packing plants for this very purpose) arrives at the grocery store, where the meat is then attractively packaged for sale — needle fragments intact. In this same vein, needle sticks were (and still are) one of the most common on-the-job accidents among workers at hog farms, where the same hypodermic needle is repeatedly used on animal after animal. These accidents not only put workers at risk for accidental injection of medications, but also to infection by an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria. I never quite saw pork in the same light after reading those magazines. All of this is to say that I’m no newbie to the annals of pig farming.   

DEU VOGELGRIPPE TAMIFLUSo I was unsurprised to learn this week that the World Health Organization — bowing to concerns by pig farmers who are suffering lagging sales due to public fears over eating pig meat — decided on a name change for our most recent pandemic threat:     

Rather than calling this swine flu … we’re going to stick with the technical, scientific name, ‘H1N1 Influenza A,'” said WHO spokesman Dick Thompson.     

Good idea. Simply rename the thing and hope the euphemism will stick. This way, people can feel warm and fuzzy again about eating pigs. This way — even as this latest strain of swine flu threatens to be that much-touted pandemic the officials keep warning will eventually decimate the better part of the human population on this planet — at least the profits of factory farming industries (such as Smithfield, implicated in the Mexico outbreak), won’t suffer too much.

Pssst…. I have an even better idea. Why not just call the virus SIV, as the pig farming industry has been doing for years? Or would calling it something close to HIV just open a whole new can of worms?

What the WHO hopes will get lost in the translation between swine flu and H1N1 Influenza A is the fact that this virus is, indeed, 2-parts pig. It’s such an efficient cocktail of animal DNA, really, that one can’t help but wonder why nature didn’t think of this recipe eons ago: 1-part domestic pig, 1-part Eurasian pig, 1-part chicken and 1-part human DNA. Fact is, no matter how much the WHO shakes, stirs and spins this cocktail, they can’t pretty up the truth that swine flu — just like its sister virus, avian flu — is inextricably linked to factory farming

Or can they? Oddly, the topic of factory farming is almost entirely absent from the evening news and the 24-7 round-robin pageantry of media coverage on this virus, and is utterly nil in the CDC’s dialogue, as they serve their role of public relations liason between the U.S. government and its citizens on matters of public health. They do assure us, tho, how very ordinary this business is of viruses jumping from one species to another. Still, no mention of factory farms (also called CAFOs, or ‘confined animal feeding operations’).  No mention of the curious fact that yet another brand spanking new virus strain has emerged on the scene already immune to two anti-viral medications, amantadine and rimantadine. No questions about how this may have occurred.

The pig farms of my childhood — back in the day when my elementary school class was reading Charlotte’s Web — averaged 53 pigs per farm, with the pigs running freely in open pens, living more or less normal pig lives until the day of slaughter. Today, the average number is 1,000 pigs per farm, described by one writer as “a transition from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hells, containing tens of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems suffocating in heat and manure while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates.”

This can be said of any factory farm operation, whether the commodity is chickens, turkey, fish, cows or pigs.  Animals are warehoused in huge sheds, stacked like cordwood in cages so small that many are forced to spend their entire lives standing up, while others are crammed together in one cage, packed so tightly that they are forced to stand one on top of the other — the result of either method being a population of filthy, stressed animals plagued with disease and deformity, ever-teetering on the brink of death. To this end, farmers utilize a vast aresenal of chemicals, pesticides, hormones, vaccines and drugs, with factory farmed animals consuming 70% of the antibiotics in this country. This enables farmers to house animals in the most crowded, inhumane, feces-ridden, disease-inducing conditions imaginable, while keeping mortality at bay. While costly, these remedies translate to higher profits than the humane animal husbandry practices of yore.  

  laying-hens2

Aside from the stomach-wrenching inhumanity that causes most people, upon viewing the reality of these farms, to either become vegetarians or plunge their heads into the sand, there are myriad problems arising from these farms that cannot be wished away, no matter hard we try to ignore them. Choose your poison: 

  • The drugs, hormones, vaccines and pesticides that have been passed from factory-farmed animals into the human food chain over the past several decades have been directly linked to serious human health issues, ranging from immune disorders, to early puberty, to the emergence of drug-resistant diseases, such as MRSA (also known as the flesh-eating disease), which causes 18,000 deaths in the U.S. every years — more deaths, even, than AIDS. 
  • The demand for the cheapest, most profitable feed for these animal populations has resulted in the practice of feeding animal wastes to animals, with the menu of any chicken, turkey, cow or pig (or household dog and cat, for that matter) likely to include a mix of feces, blood, feathers, fur, brains, bone, etc. from any or all of the above. While this feeding practice has been directly tied to the introduction of certain diseases (such as, say, mad cow disease, which rarely goes by its techical, scientific name ‘bovine spongiform encephalopathy’) into the food chain, the practice has yet to be discontinued in the U.S., which is why meat imports from the U.S., like China, have been banned in many countries. 
  • Massive tons of animal waste — from feces, to urine to blood — are routinely, but illegally dumped into the lands and waterways surrounding these farms, resulting in dead zones that extend for miles — not only decimating native flora, fauna and fish, but sickening and killing human beings, as well. For reasons about to be disclosed, our government turns a blind eye to these crimes.
  • The agriculture lobby industry is as powerful as the banking industry lobbyists on Capitol Hill. So powerful, in fact, that when our lawmakers are considering laws to protect the U.S. consumer, they defer to the judgment and ‘science’ provided by lobbyists, who are the most generous contributors to their personal and campaign coffers. Within this system, the CDC, the USDA and the FDA have followed accordingly, evolving to little more than government-funded public relations firms, their role being to polish the images of these industries and provide damage control, as needed, to allay the public’s fears. 

With regard to swine flu, the topic of factory farming is especially pertinent — not only because this virus arrived on the scene already resistant to two anti-viral medications (amantadine and rimantadine), but because it arrived right as a bill was introduced into Congress that implicates the indiscriminate use of antimicrobials by factory farmers in the emergence of drug-resistant human diseases.

Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and in the House by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) — Congress’ only microbiologist — the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (called H.R. 1549 and S.619, in case you want to weigh in on this issue) intends to phase out the non-therapeutic use of medically important antibiotics on farm animals. Designed to protect human beings, not animals, per se, this bill would nonetheless have the incidental effect of forcing factory farmers to adopt more humane methods of animal husbandry which, by extension, translates to a cut in the profit margin. This promises to be a contentious issue, not only among factory farmers, but among the American public.   

 

burger2

Because, make no mistake, such a bill would force changes upon the American consumer. No more 99-cent fast food sandwiches, layered in a 1-pound medley of sliced pig, cow, turkey and cheese. The cost of the meat in monster burgers would certainly rise, compelling the average American to eat fewer pounds of animal flesh per day.

With so much fodder for conflict, it’s hard to imagine why the mainstream media has sidestepped covering this new bill, seemingly oblivious to its importance in the current dialogue on swine flu. It’s not like they don’t know pig farms exist. I’ve seen several pig farms on the news, all of them peopled with gaggles of happy pigs being doted over by concerned farmers. Here’s one I pulled up off google, designed to allay fears over eating pork, which is a far sight from the reality of these farms: 

Equally absent in the media dialogue are the glaring inconsistencies in the CDC’s public relations blitz around swine flu. For instance:

  • While I understand that fully-cooked meat is essentially sterilized of flu germs, how can the CDC tell us that it”s safe for people to handle raw pork (which is, like any factory-farmed meat, routinely contaminated with bodily secretions from every conceivable part of a pig), considering that, according to the pork industry, swine flu is spread to humans “not just by inhalation of aerosolized virus, but also by eye and nose contact with droplets of respiratory secretions” which is why the industry urges its workers to avoid “hand to face contact,” and to change their clothes and wash-up before going home from work?
  • And what does the CDC mean when it reassures us that “… the current flu cases have been transmitted from person to person, that the swine flu strain is not from the U.S. swine herd and that U.S. pork is safe to eat.” Does that mean that this swine flu strain is from a non-U.S. herd? And does it mean that non-U.S. pork is unsafe to eat? And if this is the case, how’s a consumer to know whether their pork came from the U.S. or China or elsewhere?
  • Does the location of the disease epicenter (Smithfield pig farm in Mexico) have anything to do with the CDC”s advice that it’s safe for Mexicans to travel to the U.S. (e.g. “the cow’s already out of the barn”) while U.S. citizens are advised to exercise caution, traveling to Mexico only by necessity?

Such questions are left to those of us still puzzling over the origin of this latest pandemic threat. One thing is for sure. The answers won’t be found on the evening news, nor in the officious missives of the CDC, USDA, FDA or even in the halls of Congress, well-intentioned as some of its members may be in pushing for the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act — a bill that doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being passed, so long as the agriculture lobbyists are still writing the laws that regulate their industry. 

But I digress. According to statements by WHO yesterday, while scientists don’t know exactly how H1N1 Influenza A jumped from pigs to humans, they insist that it’s being spread from human to human, NOT  from contact with infected pigs. Got that through your head? “There is no evidence of infection in pigs, nor of humans acquiring infection directly from pigs,” insists WHO (even as this utterly contradicts the news — both  old and new — from the pig farming industry). Further, the WHO warns, “Killing pigs will not help to guard against public or animal health risks, ” and is “inappropriate.” 

Agreed.

But changing the way factory farmers do business is appropriate. Because no matter how strongly the WHO, the CDC and the USDA insist — along with the various other government agencies and entities working in coalition with the pork lobbyists — the fact remains that the agricultural industry has long been putting the human population on this planet at risk for a full-blown pandemic capable of wiping out a huge swath of the human race. That, in itself, is scary enough.

But scarier, still, are those governent entities that are so far off the media’s radar screen, that they’re relegated to the minions of conspiracy theorists. Here reside the darker truths about diseases, such as swine flu — which, itself,  has seen over 60 years of research and development into its use as a biowarfare weapon and has even seen successful trial runs in this capacity, such as the 1971 swine flu outbreak in Cuba, as reported in a January 1977 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Necessity being the mother of invention, there is at least a silver lining to this swine flu scare. A silk purse, if you will. Turns out, the pharmaceutical industry — another of Capitol Hill’s more lucrative lobbyists — will turn a handsome profit on the sale of the anti-viral drug, Tamiflu and on any future vaccines, regardless of whether the pandemic pans out. But that’s a a different story, much as it, too, emanates from swine.   

72817489CS018_Pentagon_Hold

______________________________

by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers

______________________________

For more reading:

Pew Commission Report on Industrial Farm Animal Production: FINAL REPORT: Putting Food on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in the U.S. (Executive Summary pdf)  (full report pdf)

Pew Charitable Trusts: Human Health & Animal Farming: Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Animals

Rolling Stone: Pork’s Dirty Secret 

Huffington Post: Swine Flu Outbreak – Nature Biting Back at Industrial Animal Production?

PETA article and video: Undercover Investigation Reveals Hormel Supplier’s Abuse of Mother Pigs and Piglets[warning: graphic images]

Biosurveillance: Swine Flu in Mexico: Timeline of Events

Global Research: Flying Pigs, Tamiflu and Factory Farms

Global Research: (2005 article) Who Owns the Rights on Tamiflu: Rumsfeld To Profit From Bird Flu Hoax

tamiflu-stockpiles

The pig industry’s efforts to defend itself in the wake of the swine flu outbreak:  

Swine Flu: Wrong Name

Industry Stresses Pork is Safe

CDC, USDA Emphasize Pork and Hogs are Safe [Considering the careful PR campaign being devoted to pork safety, I find it curous that there is no explanation in this article to what they mean by “safe handling” of pork meat in the context of pork safety during a swine flu epidemic.]