As VIVA! has suggested, we have sent the following letter to Alan Johnson – and it has appeared, slightly edited, as Comment in the May 8 issue of The Friend:

Dear friend,

In light of the worldwide crisis over what is incorrectly called ‘swine flu’, the members of Quaker Concern for Animals urgently call on the Government to launch an enquiry into intensive methods of farming and their role in spreading disease.

In Mexico, we are informed, intensive pig farming is big business, with tens of thousands of pigs on a single factory farm. But you will know that this is not peculiar to Mexico; almost all the nine million pigs we kill each year in the UK are farmed intensively; kept in cramped, often filthy, conditions. Several exposés have vividly revealed this to be the case – we hope that you have seen them, because, in your role as Secretary of State for Health, you may well wonder whether such insalubrious conditions may not have some significant effect on the health of those people who eat the animals.

Intensive farming is wholly unnatural and produces animals whose immune systems are gravely compromised. Diseases spread like wildfire and there is clearly potential for bacteria and viruses to swap genetic material and produce entirely new strains.

Caroline Lucas, Green Party leader, has also stated: “This is not the first time a triple hybrid combination of swine, avian and human viruses has been uncovered. The first was found in an industrial pig farm in 1998 in North Carolina, a state which boasts the densest pig population in North America. Some experts blamed the emergence on intensive farming practices in the US, where pigs and poultry are raised in extremely cramped conditions, often in adjacent sheds, and tended to by the same staff.”

So it is not unlikely that intensive farming is the source of this current outbreak. We urge the Government to take this threat seriously. Please let us know what measures you will take to investigate the role of intensive farming of animals – and the widespread use of antibiotics in farming – in the spread of emerging infectious diseases.

Best wishes,

Marian Hussenbux, for the committee of Quaker Concern for Animals.