The spread of industrial poultry production and trade networks has actually created ideal conditions for the emergence and transmission of lethal viruses like the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, said Devlin Kuyek, of the Montreal-based international non-governmental organisation Grain.So, it seems the problem could be of our own making. Over the years there has been a lot of opposition to these 'battery' poultry farms... particularly because of the appallingly cruel conditions under which the poultry live.
Once inside densely populated factory farms, viruses can rapidly become lethal and amplify, said Mr Kuyek in the report released today.
Air thick with viral load from infected farms was carried for kilometres, while integrated trade networks spread the disease through many carriers: live birds, day-old chicks, meat, feathers, hatching eggs, eggs, chicken manure and animal feed, he added.
"Everyone is focused on migratory birds and backyard chickens as the problem," said the researcher of Grain, which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on people's control over genetic resources and local knowledge.
"But they are not effective vectors of highly pathogenic bird flu. The virus kills them, but is unlikely to be spread by them," he said.
For example, in Malaysia, the mortality rate from H5N1 among village chicken was only 5%, indicating that the virus had a hard time spreading among small-scale chicken flocks.
H5N1 outbreaks in Laos, which was surrounded by infected countries, have only occurred in the nation's few factory farms, which were supplied by Thai hatcheries, the report said.
The only cases of bird flu in backyard poultry, which account for over 90% of Laos' production, occurred next to the factory farms.
"The evidence we see over and over again, from the Netherlands in 2003 to Japan in 2004 to Egypt in 2006, is that lethal bird flu breaks out in large-scale industrial chicken farms and then spreads to other places and regions," Mr Kuyek explained.
The Nigerian outbreak earlier this year began at a single factory farm, owned by a cabinet minister, distant from hotspots for migratory birds but known for importing unregulated hatchable eggs.
In India, local authorities said that H5N1 emerged and spread from a factory farm owned by the country's largest poultry company, Venkateshwara Hatcheries.
Grain asked a burning question why governments and international agencies, like the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, were doing nothing to investigate how the factory farms and their byproducts, such as animal feed and manure, spread the virus.
Instead, they were using the crisis as an opportunity to further industrialise the poultry sector.
Initiatives are multiplying to ban outdoor poultry, squeeze out small producers and restock farms with genetically-modified chickens.
The web of complicity with an industry engaged in a string of denials and cover-ups seems complete, he said.
"Farmers are losing their livelihoods, native chickens are being wiped out and some experts say that we are on the verge of a human pandemic that could kill millions of people," Mr Kuyek concluded.
Monday, February 27, 2006
About the Spread of Bird Flu
Today's Bankgok Post (Feb27) has a very interesting article entitled: Factory farms behind bird flu spread. Apparently wild birds are not really to blame!