Info Service on Health Issues (February 07/09)
factory farms for bird flu
are very likely where bird flu started and will continue to be responsible
for new outbreaks of the disease. This was revealed in a report by the
Worldwatch Institute. The following article follows the evidence worldwide.
is reproduced with permission from IPS and South-North Development Monitor
(SUNS) #6196, 22 February 2007.
Health: Report blames factory farms for bird flu
By Stephen Leahy, IPS, Brooklin,
Canada, 20 February 2007
Factory farms are responsible
for both the bird flu and emissions of greenhouse gases that now top
those of cars and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), according to a report
Sixty percent of global livestock production, including chicken and
pig "confined animal feedlot operations" (CAFOs), now occur
in the developing world.
Unregulated zoning and subsidies that encourage these CAFOs or factory
farms are moving closer to major urban areas in China, Bangladesh, India,
and many countries in Africa, said the report, "Vital Signs 2007-2008"
by the Worldwatch Institute.
Although there is no definitive scientific proof, those farms are very
likely where avian or bird flu started and will continue to be responsible
for new outbreaks, said the author of the report, Danielle Nierenberg,
a Worldwatch research associate.
In Laos, 42 of the 45 outbreaks of avian flu in the spring of 2004 occurred
on factory farms, and 38 were in the capital, Vientiane. In Nigeria,
the first cases of avian flu were found in an industrial broiler operation.
It spread from that 46,000-bird farm to 30 other factory farms, then
quickly to neighbouring backyard flocks, forcing already poor farmers
to kill their chickens, Nierenberg writes in the report.
"The growth in factory farms in the developing world is being driven
by the fact that there are more people in cities and they have more
money to buy meat," she told IPS in an interview.
Rising incomes, populations and demand for meat has resulted in the
global poultry population quadrupling since the 1960s to about 18 billion
birds today. Once mostly raised under free-range conditions or in backyards
by very small producers, most poultry are now kept in large flocks numbering
several hundred thousand.
Cramming 100,000 chickens into a single facility to produce low-cost
meat also creates the perfect atmosphere for the spread of disease.
For that very reason intensive livestock production systems in Europe
and North America feed large volumes of antibiotics to chickens, pigs
and cows to control diseases. This widespread use of antibiotics has
created bacteria that are now resistant to antibiotics and pose yet
another human health threat.
Avian flu is a virus, but one that has long been present in wild and
domestic birds and is normally harmless to humans. In 2003, a deadly
strain called H5N1 evolved, and has now killed 167 people, according
to the World Health Organisation.
Last month, England experienced its first outbreak of H5N1 at a huge
turkey farm with 160,000 birds and a meat processing facility. Infected
turkey meat believed to have been shipped in from the company's factory
farms in Hungary is thought to be the original source of the disease,
according to British officials.
On Monday, Russian health officials confirmed an H5N1 strain outbreak
in five different regions around Moscow. Officials there blamed migrating
wild birds even though it is the middle of winter in Russia. Russia's
Novosti news agency said scientists traced the source of the virus to
a pet market in Moscow.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome and
the WHO have also blamed wild birds and backyard flocks for the spread
of the virus. As a result, at least 15 nations have restricted or banned
free-range and backyard production of birds.
But that may do more harm than good, said Nierenberg.
"Many of the world's estimated 800 million urban farmers, who raise
crops and animals for food, transportation, and income in back yards
and on rooftops, have been targeted unfairly," she said in a statement.
"The socioeconomic importance of livestock to the world's poor
cannot be overstated."
There is mounting evidence that there are other vectors of the disease.
No wild birds have been detected with the virus in Europe or Africa
this winter, yet there have been outbreaks in Nigeria, Egypt and Europe.
Illegal and improper trade in poultry is thought to be the reason for
"Our research shows that the global poultry trade and migratory
birds are involved in the spread of H5N1," said Peter Daszak, executive
director of the Consortium for Conservation Medicine in New York and
an expert on the spread of disease in wildlife.
The combination of large numbers of birds being raised together, the
international trade in poultry and migratory birds are a perfect receipt
for the global spread of disease, Daszak said in an interview.
However, there is a "bit of blame game going on" as some cite
factory farms and others migratory birds as the source of H5N1.
"New diseases are one of the costs of development and growth,"
Daszak and colleagues have documented the rise of various diseases such
as Ebola, BSE, CJD, HIV/AIDS, and H5N1 bird flu, and believe that they
are the result of environmental change, which is almost always caused
by humans. Because humans share so many pathogens with animals, humans'
impact in driving wildlife diseases in turn threatens public health.
"Many of us at the outset underestimated the role of trade,"
Samuel Jutzi, director of Animal Production and Health at the FAO, told
the International Herald Tribune last week. "The poultry sector
is the most globalised in agriculture ," Jutzi said. "There
is incredible movement of chicks and other products."
The pathogenic H5N1 form of avian flu does not usually develop in wild
birds or backyard poultry because their populations are too spread out
and diverse, said Cathy Holtslander, project organiser for the Beyond
Factory Farming Coalition, a Canadian NGO.
Concentrating huge numbers of animals in small spaces, feeding them
the cheapest food possible, centralising and speeding up processing,
and distributing the product widely around the world is the perfect
recipe for spreading disease, Holtslander told IPS.
The growing numbers of livestock around the world are responsible for
18% of global greenhouse gas emissions (as measured in carbon dioxide
equivalent), according to the FAO.
It's not just methane and manure - the FAO shows that land-use changes,
especially deforestation to expand pastures and to create arable land
for feed crops, is a big part. So is the use of energy to produce fertilisers,
to run the slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants, and to pump water.
Already surpassing emissions from the world's transportation sector,
livestock numbers are rising fast.
"The world's poor probably need more meat, but we in North America
and Europe should eat a lot less meat," said Nierenberg.
And it would be better and healthier to get meat from small-scale, localised
production systems. Factory farms provide cheap meat only because the
real costs in terms of air and water pollution, terrible conditions
for workers and animals and so on are not factored in, she said.
"The US infrastructure can barely handle the problems caused by
factory farms," Nierenberg said. "I don't know how they can
address these in the developing world."
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