Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pfizer fined 2.3 Billion: Fraud

Pfizer Inc. and a subsidiary have agreed to a record healthcare fraud settlement and will pay $2.3 billion to resolve civil and criminal complaints in connection with the illegal promotion of some drugs, the Justice Department announced this morning.

The agreement demonstrates that "combating healthcare fraud is one of this administration’s top priorities," Associate Atty. Gen. Thomas J. Perrelli said. "By all accounts, every year we lose tens of billions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid funds to fraud."

Today's action also comes as the Obama administration gears up for the autumn battle over healthcare reform. Obama has argued that part of the funding for any healthcare initiative should come from eliminating waste and fraud, particularly in the two government programs, Medicare and Medicaid.

According to the Justice Department, Pfizer touted four prescription drugs -- including the anti-inflammatory painkiller Bextra -- as treatments for medical conditions different from those the drugs had been approved for by federal regulators.

A Pfizer subsidiary, Pharmacia and Upjohn Inc., which was acquired in 2003, agreed to plead guilty to one count of felony misbranding. The department said the $2.3-billion settlement included a $1.2-billion criminal fine, the largest criminal fine in U.S. history. The agreement also included a criminal forfeiture of $105 million.

The overall settlement is the largest ever paid by a drug company for alleged violations of federal drug rules.
Other drugs involved in the agreement were Geodon, an anti-psychotic drug; Zyvox, an antibiotic; and Lyrica, an anti-epileptic drug.

Under terms of the settlement, some of money will be shared among the states, which pay for part of Medicare and Medicaid.

"As part of the settlement, Pfizer also has agreed to enter into an expansive corporate integrity agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services. That agreement provides for procedures and reviews to be put in place to avoid and promptly detect conduct similar to that which gave rise to this matter,” the Justice Department said.

Six whistle-blowers will receive payments totaling more than $102 million from the federal share of the civil recovery, the government also said.

“These agreements bring final closure to significant legal matters and help to enhance our focus on what we do best -- discovering, developing and delivering innovative medicines to treat patients dealing with some of the world’s most debilitating diseases,” Amy W. Schulman, senior vice president and general counsel of Pfizer, said in a prepared statement. “We regret certain actions taken in the past, but are proud of the action we’ve taken to strengthen our internal controls.”

See the Department of Justice announcement here.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Swine Flu in Mexico- Timeline of Events


April 24, 2009


At Veratect, we operate two operations centers based in the United States (one in the Washington, DC area and one in Seattle, WA) that provide animal and human infectious disease event detection and tracking globally. Both operations centers are organizationally modeled after our National Weather Service using a distinct methodology inspired by the natural disaster and meteorology communities. Our analysts handle information in the native vernacular language and have been thoroughly trained in their discipline, which include cultural-specific interpretation of the information. We are currently partnered with 14 organizations that provide us with direct ground observations in 238 countries. We are a multi-source, near-real time event detection and tracking organization with years of experience in this discipline.

March 30

Veratect reported that a 47-year-old city attorney for Cornwall was hospitalized in a coma at Ottawa General Hospital following a recent trip to Mexico. Family members reported the individual voluntarily reported to the hospital after gradually feeling ill upon returning from his trip on 22 March. The source stated that the hospital did not know the cause of illness. The case was reportedly on a respirator and awaiting a blood transfusion, but sources did not provide symptoms or a suggested cause of illness. This information was available in our web portal to all clients, including CDC and multiple US state and local public health authorities, however no one had connected this man’s illness with a potential crisis in Mexico.

We have learned this case tested negative according to Canadian officials. The only value this event would have had would have been to tip someone to take a closer look at where this individual traveled in Mexico, possibly stumbling on reports of 'unusual respiratory disease- we have absolutely no indication anyone did this, or if they did they found anything to prompt closer scrutiny. We certainly didn't.

April 2

Local media source Imagen del Golfo reported that state health officials recorded a 15% increase in disease over an unspecified period in the highland areas of Veracruz, which includes La Gloria. The increase was primarily due to higher levels of upper respiratory disease and gastroenteritis. Specifically, officials noted an increase in pneumonia and bronchial pneumonia cases. Health officials attributed the increase to seasonal climate changes.

I would like to be clear here- we are aware local media sources apparently reported this on April 2nd, but we ourselves did not nor posted it on April 2nd.

April 6

Veratect reported local health officials declared a health alert due to a respiratory disease outbreak in La Gloria, Perote Municipality, Veracruz State, Mexico. Sources characterized the event as a "strange" outbreak of acute respiratory infection, which led to bronchial pneumonia in some pediatric cases. According to a local resident, symptoms included fever, severe cough, and large amounts of phlegm. Health officials recorded 400 cases that sought medical treatment in the last week in La Gloria, which has a population of 3,000; officials indicated that 60% of the town’s population (approximately 1,800 cases) has been affected. No precise timeframe was provided, but sources reported that a local official had been seeking health assistance for the town since February.

Residents claimed that three pediatric cases, all under two years of age, died from the outbreak. However, health officials stated that there was no direct link between the pediatric deaths and the outbreak; they stated the three fatal cases were "isolated" and "not related" to each other.

Residents believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to "flu." However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms. It was unclear whether health officials had identified a suspected pathogen responsible for this outbreak.

And to be crystal clear, the way we used this information was to simply flag an event as worthy of closer scrutiny and higher awareness, as there was absolutely no proof of true involvement of this company in the outbreak- a proper epidemiological investigation is required to prove such links.

Local health officials had implemented several control measures in response to the outbreak. A health cordon was established around La Gloria. Officials launched a spraying and cleaning operation that targeted the fly suspected to be the disease vector. State health officials also implemented a vaccination campaign against influenza, although sources noted physicians ruled out influenza as the cause of the outbreak. Finally, officials announced an epidemiological investigation that focused on any cases exhibiting symptoms since 10 March.

This information was available in our web portal to all clients, including CDC and multiple US state and local public health authorities.

We do know, after checking our web site logs, that the Pan American Health Organization, the WHO Regional Office of the Americas, accessed this specific report in our system on April 10th and again on April 11th.

April 16

Veratect reported the Oaxaca Health Department (SSO) indicated that an unspecified number of atypical pneumonia cases were detected at the Hospital Civil Aurelio Valdivieso in Reforma, Oaxaca State, Mexico. No information was provided about symptoms or treatment for the cases. NSS Oaxaca reported that rumors were circulating that human coronavirus was spreading at the hospital; sources did not provide any response to these statements from the hospital or health officials.

Laboratory samples were sent to Mexico City for analysis; results were expected to be released sometime next week. According to NSS Oaxaca, health officials had intensified preventive measures aimed at mitigating further spread of the disease. Sources reported that the SSO also implemented a sanitary cordon around the hospital.

This information was pushed to CDC in an email alert notification provided by Veratect on April 16 and April 17:

"16 Apr 2009 4:14 PM GMT Respiratory Disease Detailed Mexico (Reforma, Oaxaca) Reforma: Atypical Pneumonia Cases Reported at Hospital", sent at "April 16, 2009 10:08:06 AM PDT" and again at "April 17, 2009 10:08:06 AM PDT" to CDC and at "April 16, 2009 10:27:13 AM PDT" to the California State Department of Health.

April 20

Veratect was urgently asked to provide access to the VeraSight Global platform on 20 April by a client in the US public health community, and indicated they had received word from their counterparts in Canada that Mexican authorities had requested support. This client speculated whether notification of all southern U.S. border states’ public health authorities should be done and were confused as to why the CDC had not issued an advisory. Veratect contacted the CDC Emergency Operations Center to sensitize them about the situation in Mexico. CDC indicated they were already dealing with the crisis of recently detected H1N1 swine influenza in California and possibly Texas.

April 21

Veratect reported the Oaxaca Health Department (SSO) confirmed two adults died from atypical pneumonia at the Hospital Civil Aurelio Valdivieso in Oaxaca, Oaxaca State, Mexico. One of the cases was a 39-year-old female; the other case was an adult male of unspecified age. After the deaths, the hospital established a quarantine in the emergency room due to initial concerns that avian influenza was responsible for the cases. However, the SSO subsequently stated that neither avian influenza nor coronaviruses, including that which causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), were the source of infection. Additionally, the SSO denied the cases represented an epidemic. According to local sources, the SSO indicated that the atypical pneumonia cases were caused by an unspecified bacterial pathogen and were treatable with antibiotics. Sources indicated a total of 16 additional patients exhibited signs of respiratory infection; none of these patients exhibited complications.

Veratect sources indicated the 39-year-old female was treated at the hospital for five days before dying on 13 April. This case was reportedly immunocompromised; in addition to acute respiratory symptoms, she also had diabetes and diarrhea. The SSO contacted 300 people that had been in contact with the woman; sources stated that between 33-61 contacts exhibited symptoms of respiratory disease, but none showed severe complications. The SSO characterized the incident as an "isolated case;" they noted that over 5,000 cases of pneumonia occur annually in Oaxaca.

Another local source reported the SSO launched surveillance measures in the former residential areas of the two fatal cases and in other targeted geographic areas. No additional information was provided regarding the second fatal case at the hospital.

Veratect reported that the Oaxaca State Congress Permanent Committee on Health had undertaken an investigation into the cases. The committee inspected the Hospital Civil Aurelio Valdivieso on 20 April. The director of the medical school at the University Autónoma "Benito Juárez" de Oaxaca (UABJO), along with other medical academics, publicly requested that national health authorities investigate the cases of atypical pneumonia. No information was provided indicating that national health authorities plan to investigate the matter. The director of the medical school also requested the SSO furnish evidence showing that the cases were negative for avian influenza, SARS, and other severe pathogens; his request was echoed by readers commenting on an online user forum.

Veratect also reported the National Ministry of Health issued a health alert due to a significant increase in influenza cases during the spring season in Mexico. Officials indicated that there have been 14 influenza outbreaks throughout the country. The most heavily affected states are Baja California, Chihuahua, Distrito Federal (Mexico City), Hidalgo, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz. Local case counts were not provided.

Officials stated that 4,167 probable cases of influenza, 313 of which were confirmed, have been reported throughout the country in 2009. Case counts for suspected and confirmed influenza cases have tripled in 2009 as compared to the equivalent time period in 2008. The National Institute of Respiratory Diseases recorded two fatal cases of influenza in 2009, but specific dates and locations were not provided.

Health officials stated they were unsure precisely why the incidence of influenza had increased. However, they believed the increased presence of influenza B, in combination with influenza A, was a contributing factor. In response, officials advised anyone exhibiting influenza symptoms to avoid self-medication and seek medical care immediately. Officials had also enhanced epidemiological surveillance for influenza. Lastly, health officials had focused efforts on providing antiviral medications and influenza vaccinations to the most vulnerable segments of the population. According to the Mexican Ministry of Health, 44.3% of the national population was vaccinated against influenza in 2005-2006.

Veratect sensitized the International Federation of Red Cross who in turn requested broader access be provided to the Pan-American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU). Veratect moved to notify several US state and local public health authorities, providing the caveat the situation in Mexico remained unclear due to pending laboratory results. Veratect reached out to World Health Organization (WHO) operations, informing them the Veratect team was on an alert posture and available for situational awareness support. They indicated they and their subordinate, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) were now aware of the situation but had no further information. Veratect also extended contact to the British Columbia Center for Disease Control and offered assistance in tracking the events in Mexico. All contacts indicated laboratory results were pending.

April 22

Veratect reported the Oaxaca Health Department (SSO) indicated 16 employees at the Hospital Civil Aurelio Valdivieso in Oaxaca, Oaxaca State, Mexico had contracted respiratory disease. However, the SSO denied these cases were connected to the recently identified cases of atypical pneumonia at the hospital. No information was provided indicating how many employees work at the hospital or whether the number of respiratory disease cases was higher than average. The source reported that "fear" persisted among hospital physicians concerning the possible presence of a deadly bacteria or virus circulating in the hospital. One anonymous hospital employee criticized hospital management as "unfair" for not providing clear information regarding the first fatal atypical pneumonia case.

An additional source reported the cause of the atypical pneumonia cases remained unknown; it stated that bacteria or virus could have caused the cases. In contrast, according to an 18 April report, the SSO indicated that the atypical pneumonia cases were caused by an unspecified bacterial pathogen and were treatable with antibiotics. The reason for this discrepancy was unclear at this time.

The Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS), a national health entity, had now joined the SSO in responding to the cases; reports did not indicate the Mexican National Ministry of Health had joined in the response efforts. The IMSS extended the sanitary cordon surrounding the hospital. Patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms would be sent to the hospital’s epidemiology department for further study. IMSS instructed physicians to hospitalize respiratory disease patients immediately if they meet certain standards for severity of symptoms. Lastly, the hospital’s emergency room would remain closed for an additional 15 days so that cleaning and preventive disinfection could be carried out.

Veratect also reported the Mexican Ministry of Health indicated that an "unusual" outbreak of laboratory-confirmed influenza caused five deaths from 17-19 April 2009 in Mexico City, Mexico. The deaths occurred at the following three hospitals: el Hospital de la Secretaría de Salud (2), el Institute Nacional de Enfermedades Respiratorias (2), and el Hospital Ángeles del Pedregal (1). According to unofficial sources, the fatal case count was higher than that provided by officials. There were currently 120 influenza cases hospitalized throughout Mexico City. National health officials indicated that influenza vaccines were sold out in Mexico City and that they were attempting to acquire additional supplies of the vaccine.

At this point, the Mexican Health Secretary reportedly stated there was an influenza epidemic in Mexico City and throughout the rest of the county. In response to the cases, the official stated health authorities would launch a public awareness and vaccination campaigns. He stated that 400,000 vaccines would be administered, primarily to medical staff; it was unclear whether these efforts would be focused on Mexico City or any other geographic area. Health officials also ordered the provision of special masks, gloves, and gowns for medical personnel that were in contact with influenza cases.

A total of 13 fatal cases of influenza were reported in Mexico City in the past three weeks. However, several other media sources reported that the 13 deaths were recorded since 18 March 2009; the reason for this discrepancy was unclear. Sources reported a total of 20 fatal cases of influenza throughout Mexico over the disputed timeframe. The other cases were located in San Luis Potosí (4), Baja California (2), and Oaxaca (1). The Director of Epidemiology at the National Center for Epidemiological Surveillance and Disease Control characterized the outbreak as "quite unusual."

No information was provided indicating that the strain of influenza itself was unusual. Rather, several sources indicated that it was "unusual" to record this many fatal influenza cases during this time of year. Influenza cases normally peak from October to February, while these cases had occurred during Mexico’s spring season.

Canada announced a national alert for travelers returning from Mexico with respiratory disease, beginning a campaign of public media announcements. Potentially ill contacts were identified returning from Mexico and isolated in Canada. Internet blogs begin to spin up. CDC indicates concern about the events unfolding in Mexico. Veratect sensitizes the US community physician social network managed by Ozmosis.

April 23

Veratect reported the Secretary General of the Oaxaca Ministry of Health Workers Union confirmed that a doctor and a nurse from the Hospital Civil Aurelio Valdivieso in Oaxaca, Oaxaca State, Mexico were under observation for suspected "atypical" pneumonia. This contradicted statements made by the Oaxaca Health Department (SSO) on 22 April that 16 hospital employees contracted respiratory disease, but none of the cases exhibited atypical pneumonia.

The union official stated that a review by the Oaxaca State Board of Medical Arbitration indicated that the hospital faced serious difficulties caused by overcrowding; he stated that overcrowded conditions created a "breeding ground" for the spread of various epidemics. According to the official, the hospital has 120 beds but the number of patients hospitalized had at times surpassed 240.

Other sources reported that the Department of Livestock, Fisheries, Rural Development, and Feed (SAGARPA) declared on 20 April that Oaxaca, Mexico was free of avian influenza. SAGARPA stated that authorities should remain vigilant in monitoring for the disease among birds.

Canadian local health officials stated that a Rouge Valley resident with influenza-like illness was being monitored at Scarborough Centenary Hospital in Scarborough, Ontario. The precaution was being taken in accordance with an alert issued by the Ministry of Health asking hospitals to watch for severe respiratory illnesses in travelers returning from Mexico. Despite the warning, the Ministry had indicated that evidence is not suggestive of a novel pathogen or influenza strain, according to the source. A representative for the Rouge Valley Health System stated that this case is being monitored related to the alert. The source did not specifically indicate symptoms or that the person had traveled to Mexico. No additional information regarding the case, including age or health status, was reported.

The source stated that hospital employees were asking any patients admitted to the hospital if they had recently traveled to Mexico, which according to the source was a popular tourist destination for Durham-region residents.

Additional Canadian sources indicated Southlake Regional Health Centre officials treated a patient with influenza-like illness (ILI) who recently returned from Mexico. The Ministry of Health recently notified Southlake, in addition to health units across the country, that an outbreak of severe respiratory disease was affecting areas of Mexico; ill travelers returning from that region with ILI symptoms were encouraged to be monitored. Sources did not provide any specific information about the case, including age or current treatment status. Information regarding the individual’s travel to Mexico was also not provided, including destinations and duration of time in country.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) noted that an Ontario resident who returned from Mexico on 22 March experienced severe respiratory illness, but has fully recovered and was not considered connected to the current situation. Veratect recently reported on 30 March that a public official from Cornwall, Ontario was hospitalized with an unknown illness following a trip to Mexico; however, it is unclear if the cases are related, or if this was the case referenced by PHAC officials.

Veratect assesses the situation and notes the following:

Affected areas:

Oaxaca, Distrito Federal, San Luis Potosí, Baja California

Distance to nearest international airport:

• Oaxaca airport, located approximately 150 miles from Reforma, is connected via non-stop air traffic to Houston
• Mexico City (Distrito Federal) airport is connected via non-stop air traffic to many cities in the US, Canada, Europe and Latin America, with the most outbound traffic to Los Angeles, Frankfurt, Houston, Dallas, and Amsterdam
• San Luis Potosí airport is connected via non-stop air traffic to Dallas and Houston
• Mexicali airport in Baja California is connected via non-stop traffic to Los Angeles
• Veracruz airport is connected via non-stop air traffic to Houston

Large mass gatherings:

Semana Santa (April ~April 3 – 12, Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday), which is Mexico’s second largest holiday. Mexico’s population is approximately 90% Catholic, which results in substantial population migration patterns during this time period. For instance, in Ixtapalapa (in Mexico City), one million people visit for Semana Santa. Other well-known sites for the holiday include Pátzcuaro, San Cristobal de las Casas (Chiapas), and Taxco. Veratect notes substantial population migration has just occurred that could facilitate the spread of respiratory disease.

Civil Unrest:

The recent surge in organized crime and drug-related violence in Mexico, including homicides, kidnappings, extortion, and theft, has disproportionately impacted Mexican states along the Pacific Coast and U.S.-Mexico border. This factor may confound situational awareness of respiratory disease in Mexico and contribute to problems in epidemiological investigation and response measures. Baja California is one of five states within this region that currently accounts for more than 75 percent of Mexico's drug-related homicides, and has recorded high levels of drug seizures and police corruption cases. Veracruz, a state with high drug cartel activity in the Gulf of Mexico, has recorded little violence, while the state of Oaxaca to the southwest, recently recorded the assassination of a political party leader. Mexico City, in the center of the country, recently arrested a major drug cartel leader, and recorded few homicides this month. The levels of unrest in Hidalgo, San Luis Potosi, and Tlaxcala, however, are very low, and have not reported a single homicide related to organized crime in the past month.

Veratect issues notification to additional public health authorities in two states. Veratect reaches out to the Pan American Health Organization emergency operations team but is unable to establish contact. Veratect notes no publicly available English language reporting from ProMED, HealthMap, FluNET, CDC, ECDC, or WHO about the unfolding events in Mexico. Many of Veratect’s clients, including Canadian, ask why an alert has not been issued by the US to sensitize their healthcare community.

April 24

Veratect continues to process a dramatic increase in reporting on the situation in Mexico.

WHO requests access to the Veratect system. Veratect is aware of laboratory samples from Mexico are positive for “swine flu” H1N1, a novel virus. World media are now aware of the situation in Mexico. CDC issues a press statement, as does WHO.

Veratect notifies the private US clinical laboratory community and activates a Twitter feed ( to enable more rapid updating of information.

Mexican Pig Farming Town Under The Microscope by Carrie Kahn

Health officials in Mexico are closely monitoring the swine flu outbreak in a small town about 250 miles northeast of Mexico City where officials confirmed one of the first flu cases in the country.

The dusty streets of La Gloria are usually pretty quiet. At least, they were until Mexican officials sent in brigades of doctors and nurses to combat the outbreak.

Dr. Pablo Rafael Alba visits one home. Jorge Trinidad Garcia, 11, answers the door wearing a blue mask, then runs to get his mom.

Soccorro Garcia Quiroz tells the doctor that her son first got sick Sunday. He was feeling better but now has another fever. Alba takes Jorge's temperature and looks down his throat.

Doctors already have sent a sample from Jorge to test for the swine flu virus. While they wait for the results, Alba tells Jorge's mom that she should increase his dosage of pills from three to four times a day.

Flu doesn't usually make the evening news in La Gloria, where flu season usually peaks around December. So when 60 percent of the town got sick in late March, Regional Health Commissioner Jorge Uscanga Munoz says, authorities took notice. Doctors and nurses were sent to town and treated half the population within a week.

Soon after, health officials confirmed that the town had one of Mexico's first known cases of swine flu. The fact that La Gloria is surrounded by hog farms drew much attention. Officials have brought in unprecedented resources to combat the virus.

Guadalupe Serrano, who has lived in La Gloria all his life, says officials have never paid this much attention to the town. He says for years they ignored residents' complaints that contaminants from nearby hog farms were making them sick.

The owners of the largest hog farm in the valley, located just five miles from town, were more than happy to show it off. Tito Tablado, spokesman for Granjas Carroll de Mexico Hog Farm, which is co-owned by Smithfield Farms of North Carolina, greets reporters and takes a small group around the perimeter of the farm.

About 17,000 hogs are housed in 18 barns. The entire operation is surrounded by an electrified metal fence. Tablado says the reporters can't go in and see the hogs for liability reasons, but the journalists can hear and smell them.

Tablado walks the reporters out to the farm's gigantic covered manure pile and water reservoir. There are no flies anywhere. Residents claim the farm is disgusting — a fly-filled mess.

Tablado says the farm is always clean, adding that the hogs are regularly vaccinated and have never tested positive for the swine flu virus. But he says the company will comply with calls from officials and send samples to U.S. labs.

In town, health care workers hand out decongestants and pain relievers from the back of a white pickup. Speakers on top of Maria Gancedo Torres' house blare a message for residents to get medical attention.

Torres has been the town's ad agency for years. Before the outbreak, her announcements were about sales of great-tasting sausages or about the shoe salesman being in town.

NPR link

Swine Flu?

Some known facts

According to Biosurveillance, itself part of Veratect, a US Pentagon and Government-linked epidemic reporting center, on April 6, 2009 local health officials declared a health alert due to a respiratory disease outbreak in La Gloria, Perote Municipality, Veracruz State, Mexico.

They reported, ‘Sources characterized the event as a ‘strange’ outbreak of acute respiratory infection, which led to bronchial pneumonia in some pediatric cases. According to a local resident, symptoms included fever, severe cough, and large amounts of phlegm. Health officials recorded 400 cases that sought medical treatment in the last week in La Gloria, which has a population of 3,000; officials indicated that 60% of the town's population (approximately 1,800 cases) has been affected. No precise timeframe was provided, but sources reported that a local official had been seeking health assistance for the town since February.’ What they later say is ‘strange’ is not the form of the illness but the time of year as most flu cases occur in Mexico in the period October to February.

The report went on to note, ‘Residents claimed that three pediatric cases, all under two years of age, died from the outbreak. However, health officials stated that there was no direct link between the pediatric deaths and the outbreak; they stated the three fatal cases were "isolated" and "not related" to each other.’

Then, most revealingly, the aspect of the story which has been largely ignored by major media, they reported, ‘Residents believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to "flu." However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms.’ [4]

Since the dawn of American ‘agribusiness,’ a project initiated with funding by the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1950's to turn farming into a pure profit maximization business, US pig or hog production has been transformed into a highly efficient, mass production industrialized enterprise from birth to slaughter. Pigs are caged in what are called Factory Farms, industrial concentrations which are run with the efficiency of a Dachau or Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. They are all conceived by artificial insemination and once born, are regularly injected with antibiotics, not because of illnesses which abound in the hyper-crowded growing pens, but in order to make them grow and add weight faster. Turn around time to slaughter is a profit factor of highest priority. The entire operation is vertically integrated from conception to slaughter to transport distribution to supermarket.

Granjas Carroll de Mexico (GCM) happens to be such a Factory Farm concentration facility for hogs. In 2008 they produced almost one million factory hogs, 950,000 according to their own statistics. GCM is a joint venture operation owned 50% by the world's largest pig producing industrial company, Smithfield Foods of Virginia. [5] The pigs are grown in a tiny rural area of Mexico, a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and primarily trucked across the border to supermarkets in the USA, under the Smithfields' family of labels. Most American consumers have no idea where the meat was raised.

Now the story becomes interesting.

Manure Lagoons and other playing fields

The Times of London interviewed the mother of 4-year-old Edgar Hernandez of La Gloria in Veracruz, the location of the giant Smithfield Foods hog production facility. Their local reporter notes, ‘Edgar Hernández plays among the dogs and goats that roam through the streets, seemingly unaware that the swine flu he contracted a few weeks ago - the first known case - has almost brought his country to a standstill and put the rest of the world on alert. ‘I feel great,’ the five-year-old boy said. ‘But I had a headache and a sore throat and a fever for a while. I had to lay down in bed.’’

The reporters add, ‘It was confirmed on Monday (April 27 2009-w.e.) that Edgar was the first known sufferer of swine flu, a revelation that has put La Gloria and its surrounding factory pig farms and ‘manure lagoons’ at the centre of a global race to find how this new and deadly strain of swine flu emerged.’ [6]

That's quite interesting. They speak of ‘La Gloria and its surrounding factory pig farms and ‘manure lagoons.’’ Presumably the manure lagoons around the LaGloria factory pig farm of Smithfield Foods are the waste dumping place for the feces and urine waste from at least 950,000 pigs a year that pass through the facility. The Smithfield’s Mexico joint venture, Norson, states that alone they slaughter 2,300 pigs daily. That's a lot. It gives an idea of the volumes of pig waste involved in the concentration facility at La Gloria.

Significantly, according to the Times reporters, ‘residents of La Gloria have been complaining since March that the odour from Granjas Carroll's pig waste was causing severe respiratory infections. They held a demonstration this month at which they carried signs of pigs crossed with an X and marked with the word peligro (danger).’ [7] There have been calls to exhume the bodies of the children who died of pneumonia so that they could be tested. The state legislature of Veracruz has demanded that Smithfield's Granjas Carroll release documents about its waste-handling practices. Smithfield Foods reportedly declined to comment on the request, saying that it would ‘not respond to rumours.’ [8]

A research compilation by Ed Harris reported, ‘According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to ‘flu.’ However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms.’[9] That would imply that the entire Swine Flu scare might have originated from the PR spin doctors of the world's largest industrial pig factory farm operation, Smithfield Foods.

The Vera Cruz-based newspaper La Marcha blames Smithfield's Granjos Carroll for the outbreak, highlighting inadequate treatment of massive quantities of animal waste from hog production.[10]

Understandably the company is perhaps more than a bit uncomfortable with the sudden attention. The company, which supplies the McDonald's and Subway fast-food chains, was fined $12.3 million in the United States 1997 for violating the Clean Water Act. Perhaps they are in a remote tiny Mexican rural area enjoying a relatively lax regulatory climate where they need not worry about being cited for violations of any Clean Water Act.

Factory Farms as toxic concentrations

At the very least the driving force for giant industrial agribusiness outsourcing of facilities to third world sites such as Veracruz, Mexico has more to do with further cost reduction and lack of health and safety scrutiny than it does with improving the health and safety quality of the food end product. It has been widely documented and subject of US Congressional reports that large-scale indoor animal production facilities such as that of Granjos Carroll are notorious breeding grounds for toxic pathogens.

A recent report by the US Pew Foundation in cooperation with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health notes, ‘the method of producing food animals in the United States has changed from the extensive system of small and medium-sized farms owned by a single family to a system of large, intensive operations where the animals are housed in large numbers in enclosed structures that resemble industrial buildings more than they do a traditional barn. That change has happened primarily out of view of consumers but has come at a cost to the environment and a negative impact on public health, rural communities, and the health and well-being of the animals themselves. [11]

The Pew study notes, ‘The diversified, independent, family-owned farms of 40 years ago that produced a variety of crops and a few animals are disappearing as an economic entity, replaced by much larger, and often highly leveraged, farm factories. The animals that many of these farms produce are owned by the meat packing companies from the time they are born or hatched right through their arrival at the processing plant and from there to market.’ [12]

The study emphasizes that application of ‘untreated animal waste on cropland can contribute to excessive nutrient loading, contaminate surface waters, and stimulate bacteria and algal growth and subsequent reductions in dissolved oxygen concentrations in surface waters.’[13]

That is where the real investigation ought to begin, with the health and sanitary dangers of the industrial factory pig farms like the one at Perote in Veracruz. The media spread of panic-mongering reports of every person in the world who happens to contract ‘symptoms’ which vaguely resemble flu or even Swine Flu and the statements to date of authorities such as WHO or CDC are far from conducive to a rational scientific investigation..

Tamiflu and Rummy

In October 2005 the Pentagon ordered vaccination of all US military personnel worldwide against what it called Avian Flu, H5N1. Scare stories filled world media. Then, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced he had budgeted more than $1 billion to stockpile the vaccine, Oseltamivir sold under the name, Tamiflu. President Bush called on Congress to appropriate another $2 billion for Tamiflu stocks.

What Rumsfeld neglected to report at the time was a colossal conflict of interest. Prior to coming to Washington in January 2001, Rumsfeld had been chairman of a California pharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences. Gilead Sciences held exclusive world patent rights to Tamiflu, a drug it had developed and whose world marketing rights were sold to the Swiss pharma giant, Roche. Rumsfeld was reportedly the largest stock holder in Gilead which got 10% of every Tamiflu dose Roche sold.[14] When it leaked out, the Pentagon issued a curt statement to the effect that Secretary Rumsfeld had decided not to sell but to retain his stock in Gilead, claiming that to sell would have indicated something to hide.’ That agonizing decision won him added millions as the Gilead share price soared more than 700% in weeks.

Tamiflu is no mild candy to be taken lightly. It has heavy side effects. It contains matter that could have potentially deadly consequences for a person's breathing and often reportedly leads to nausea, dizziness and other flu-like symptoms.

Since the outbreak of Swine Flu Panic (not Swine Flu but Swine Flu Panic) sales of Tamiflu as well as any and every possible drug marketed as flu-related have exploded. Wall Street firms have rushed to issue ‘buy’ recommendations for the company. ‘Gimme me a shot Doc, I don't care what it is…I don't wanna die…’

Panic and fear of death was used by the Bush Administration skilfully to promote the Avian Flu fraud. With ominous echoes of the current Swine Flu scare, Avian Flu was traced back to huge chicken factory farms in Thailand and other parts of Asia whose products were shipped across the world. Instead of a serious investigation into the sanitary conditions of those chicken factory farms, the Bush Administration and WHO blamed ‘free-roaming chickens’ on small family farms, a move that had devastating economic consequences to the farmers whose chickens were being raised in the most sanitary natural conditions. Tyson Foods of Arkansas and CG Group of Thailand reportedly smiled all the way to the bank.

Now it remains to be seen if the Obama Administration will use the scare around so-called Swine Flu to repeat the same scenario, this time with ‘flying pigs’ instead of flying birds. Already Mexican authorities have reported that the number of deaths confirmed from so-called Swine Flu is 7 not the 150 or more bandied in the media and that most other suspected cases were ordinary flu or influenza.

29 April, 2009
F. William Engdahl

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Unsanitary Conditions Found in Peanut Plant

POSTED: 01:47 PM ET, 01/29/2009 by Derek Kravitz

Inspection reports of a Georgia peanut processing plant at the center of a massive, nationwide salmonella outbreak indicate that the company operated in unsanitary conditions and knowingly shipped products contaminated with strains of salmonella.

So far, more than 500 people in 43 states have become ill because of the outbreak. In response, the Food and Drug Administration has ordered one of the largest food recalls in history, asking the public to throw out every product made by the Peanut Corporation of America over the past two years. The Lynchburg, Va.-based company knowingly shipped out salmonella-laced products at least a dozen times in 2007 and 2008, authorities say; at least one congressman has asked for a criminal investigation by the Justice Department.

Among the highlights of the reports released yesterday:

  • A sink in one of the peanut butter rooms was used interchangeably to clean hands and utensils and to wash out mops.
  • The "wash room" was found to be a veritable horror show of problems: a "slimy, black-brown residue," identified as mold, was found on a conveyor and on the walls; a live cockroach and several of his dead compatriots were also discovered.
  • The company's cooler room also had mold on the ceiling and walls. Inspectors spotted water stains leading down to where finished product was stored.
  • An ingredient staging area was found "dirty with a heavy build-up of different powdery ingredients on all exposed surfaces.''
  • The lack of a ventilation system at the facility allowed for contamination to occur and officials did not check the effectiveness of temperature, volume and belt speed during the peanut roasting process.
  • Bacteria-laden raw peanuts were stored next to roasted peanuts, increasing the risk of contamination, and peanut products were stored next to salmonella-contaminated floors and cracks.