Articles and responses about the bird flu
Bird flu loves those outdoor free-range flocks
Will Verboven, For The Calgary Herald
Published: Friday, March 24, 2006
If one is to judge by the media fascination with bird flu, a human apocalypse may, or may not be, far off. It seems the spectre of a world pandemic literally looms over our heads at the discretion of infected birds and their random droppings. It's all rather undignified.

For the CBC, the pandemic is not developing fast enough to satisfy its agenda. CBC news staff's impatience showed when they created a docudrama that speculated on how people would react if the pandemic broke out. The melodramatic fake news blurred the lines between fact and fiction.

There is an assumption that once this disease arrives in North America, all hell will break loose. Most citizens are unaware that the waterfowl flying over their heads could well be carriers of some strain of bird flu. And the new H5N1 strain is spreading worldwide in the same manner as other strains have through migratory wild birds.

What is going to prevent the spread of the H5N1 strain in western Europe and particularly in North America is a livestock production practice that the animal rights lobby loves to condemn.

So-called factory farming, better known as intensive agriculture, keeps poultry production indoors under restricted conditions. That system is designed to keep out disease through various bio-security steps.

In the rare instance when bird flu does occur in intensive production systems, it is because it was inadvertently brought inside through water, feed or some other contamination route.

The real culprit in the spread of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu to domestic poultry is through free-range outdoor flocks.

Unfortunately, in the less-developed world this is how most poultry are raised -- usually in very close proximity to humans.

In the developed world, the exceptions to our closed indoor production systems are our Achilles heel.

A small segment of poultry is raised outdoors under so-called free-range, all-natural, organic standards to produce poultry products for consumers who believe those products are better.

This type of production puts domestic poultry in direct contact with infected wild birds, as the worldwide spread has proven.

There is no need to raise all natural poultry outside; it's all part of a consumer marketing scam. That deception has caused some consumers to believe that brown-shelled eggs are better -- yeah, right. The air poultry breathes does not affect the meat or the eggs.

What is different about such production is the breed of the bird used, the type of feed (corn or wheat) and the age and weight when processed. Other myth busters -- hormones are not used in poultry production -- first, none is approved, and second, poultry don't live long enough for hormones to be effective. (Antibiotics are used for disease control and prevention.)

So what is the government agency responsible for this new threat doing? The Canadian Food Inspection Agency went into denial. Incredibly, in October, a Dr. John Clarke of the CFIA stated we need not worry about H5N1 arriving in North America, as continental migratory bird routes were different. This is, at best, naive, since migratory bird routes intersect at various parts of the globe.
The CFIA has only made suggestions that free-range poultry be confined indoors. The Quebec government is more realistic about bird flu and has ordered all outdoor flocks to be moved indoors -- a common-sense precautionary approach.

Now, citizens may feel helpless as this disease spreads, but consumers can make a small contribution.

If the government is reluctant to take a proactive role -- consumers can take their own action.

They might consider not buying any poultry products that promote themselves as being free-range or organically raised outdoors.

Will Verboven writes on agricultural issues.

© The Calgary Herald 2006

How many BC outdoor flocks, organic or not, were found to be infected with the bird flu when they were seized by the CFIA and destroyed? I don't recall hearing any numbers. Is it because I missed that portion of the news or is it because the facts were never reported? This report is "jaw dropping"!

Bev Wiens

Stepney Hills Farm

Here is the part of the report from the CFIA:
Disease Detection
Avian Influenza (H7) of low pathogenicity was first detected on February 19, 2004 in birds from a commercial chicken breeder farm in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley. The farm was immediately quarantined and all birds were depopulated. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was detected on the same farm on March 8, 2004. Surveillance activities detected HPAI virus on a second commercial operation, approximately three kilometres from the first, on March 11, 2004.
Disease Spread
By mid-May, birds on 42 commercial and 11 backyard premises had been declared infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza. Most of these premises were concentrated in one of three clusters of infection. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency conducted investigations on all infected premises, tracing any movement that may have spread the virus.

While there is no definitive epidemiological evidence indicating that wild waterfowl were the original source of the outbreak, scientific literature recognizes these birds as natural reservoirs of avian influenza virus. The farm-to-farm movement of people, equipment or birds likely spread the virus over long distances, but once the virus was introduced into a densely populated region, airborne transmission through dust or feathers may have infected nearby flocks.
To contain disease spread, the Government of Canada established movement restrictions and disinfection checkpoints, and took legal steps to require bird owners to prevent unauthorized access to their property. As well, the Government initiated a targeted depopulation program that focused on rapidly isolating, containing and eliminating detected cases of avian influenza. Susceptible birds present within three kilometres of infected premises were also depopulated, given the contagious nature of the virus.

All infected birds were humanely destroyed, primarily using carbon dioxide gas. Disposal methods included incineration, burial or composting. Birds targeted for depopulation that tested negative for highly pathogenic avian influenza were eligible for slaughter through normal commercial channels.

By June 3, surveillance of flocks in the Fraser Valley had not detected any new cases of infection for 21 days. Depopulation activities were officially suspended on June 4.


Be very careful with that CFIA statement about the 11 so-called infected backyard flocks. In the subsequent epidemiological analysis, only one flock was actually found to carry virus, and that one flock had become infected only after the depopulation of the first infected commercial premises.
The CFIA’s working definition of a backyard flock was also unhelpful, as they called everything a backyard flock that did not hold quota. Since there is no quota for species other than chicken and turkey, Fraser Valley Duck and Goose, e.g., was also a “backyard flock”.
They are very sneaky in their information management…

Quennell Lake Poultry
Nanaimo, B.C.


Avian Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest article posted March 28, 2006 (web only) Nicholas von Hoffman

Is it Mother Nature or Father Human Greed whom we have to blame for avian flu?

A few days ago the Union of Concerned Scientists sent out an e-mail saying, "A study by the international non-governmental organization GRAIN suggests that avian influenza is spread primarily by the global poultry trade,
not migratory birds or free-range poultry operations as has been suggested, and that confined factory farm production contributed to its mutation into its current deadly form. The organization tracked the movements of the disease over time and found that they were correlated, not with migratory bird routes or the locations of free-range farms, but with integrated trade networks involving poultry, eggs, meat, feathers, manure and animal feed. US Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns warned that bird flu will almost certainly come to the United States."

An article on the website of the biodiversity agency Grain titled "Fowl Play: The Poultry Industry's Central Role in the Bird Flu Crisis" is yet one more reminder that things are not always as they tell us they are. Maybe the migrating swallows and arctic terns are not carrying the H5N1 flu virus after all, and why do we have to wait for the Union of Concerned Scientists to hip us to the knowledge that the disease rarely occurs in small family flocks but rather mostly in farm factories where chickens are raised by the tens of thousands inside, under unsanitary and debilitating conditions that make them soft prey for the virus. Overly large, unregulated agribusiness is at it again.

All of this is but a new version of an old truth: There is no money, or not enough money, in health. From a business point of view prevention of disease or disability is a chump's game, whether you are talking about Canadian geese, a Rhode Island red hen or a person. The big bucks are in sickness. You can make money getting people sick by selling them bad food and make more money selling them remedies for what you did to them. So the same Grain article also brings the startling news that "one of the standard ingredients in industrial chicken feed, and most industrial animal feed, is 'poultry litter.' This is a euphemism for whatever is found on the floor of the factory farms: fecal matter, feathers, bedding, etc. Chicken meat, under the label 'animal byproduct meal,' also goes into industrial chicken feed. The WHO (World Health Organization) says that bird flu can survive in bird feces for up to 35 days and, in a recent update to its bird flu fact sheet, it mentions feed as a possible medium for the spread of bird flu between farms. Russian authorities pointed to feed as one of the main suspected sources of an H5N1 outbreak at a large-scale factory farm in Kurgan province, where 460,000 birds were killed. Yet globally, nothing is being done to tighten regulations or monitoring of the feed industry. Instead it often seems that the industry, not governments, is calling the shots." Thus the don't-fence-me-in, don't-regulate-me cowboys of the food business may kill us by breeding sick chickens and may kill the chickens by feeding them contaminated food--which, of course, they sell. Yippeee-ay-yea, bring on the pandemic! But there is yet another way of wringing legitimate profits out of this disease, which, if the most pessimistic predictions turn out to be true, may cause one out of five of us to turn up our toes and head for the great chicken factory in the sky. That other way is selling us expensive medicine that does not work in case we come down with avian flu. The medicine in question is Tamiflu, which may cure Tamiflu but doesn't cure avian flu. Nevertheless, they can't make the stuff fast enough. They are back-ordered into the next century.

If that were not fun enough, Grain has also discovered that Donald Rumsfeld is a major stockholder in Gilead Sciences, which licenses Tamiflu. Whether or not Tamiflu is of the slightest use to avian flu sufferers, it is ofgreat profitability to the secretary of defense, since Gilead is expected to make $118 million from Tamiflu sales this year. Somebody has laid a big, fat egg here.

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