Industry caused the flu, why blame wild birds?



Not just in India, industrial poultry is the cause of the spread of the bird flu outbreak worldwide.

Several studies show that transnational poultry industry is the root cause of the problem. The spread of industrial poultry production and trade networks have created ideal conditions for the emergence and transmission of lethal viruses like the H5N1 strains of bird flu.

Inside factory farms viruses becomes lethal and multiply. Air thick with viral load from infected factory farms is carried for kilometres, while integrated trade networks spread the disease through many carriers like live birds and chicken manure.

Comparatively, the backyard poultry are not fuelling the current wave of bird flu outbreaks stalking large parts of the world. The epicentre of the outbreaks is the factory farms of China and South East Asia. While wild migratory birds can carry the virus, at least for short distances, the viruses are spread by the unhygienic factor farms, global studies said.

This situation is very true in case of the recent outbreak of bird flu in India. The epicentre of the outbreak was in 18 factory farms in and around Navapur in Maharashtra, where there are no sanctuary for migratory birds in the vicinity.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in November 2005 said, "To date, extensive testing of clinically normal migratory birds in the infected countries has not produced any positive results for H5N1 so far." Even with the current cases of H5N1 in wild birds in Europe, experts agree these birds probably contacted the virus in the Black Sea region, where H5N1 is well established in poultry, and died while heading westward to escape the unusually cold conditions.

The attributed reasons for the spread of H5N1 virus by migratory birds among geese in Qinghai Lake in north China was negated by the BirdLife International which pointed out that the lake has many surrounding poultry farms. It has also integrated fish farms where chicken faeces are commonly used as feed and manure. Besides, rail routes connect the region to the areas of bird flu outbreaks like Lanzhou.

Wild migratory birds and backyard poultry are the victims and not carrier of the disease. The geographical spread of the disease does not match with migratory routes and seasons, the BirdLife International report said.

A study done by a global organisation, Grain shows that migratory birds and backyard poultry are not effective vectors of bird flu. For example, in Malaysia, the mortality rate from H5N1 among village chicken is only
5%, indicating that the virus has a hard time spreading among small scale chicken flocks. H5N1 outbreaks in Laos, which is surrounded by infected countries, have only occurred in the nation's few factory farms, which was supplied by Thai hatcheries.

The only case of bird flu in backyard poultry, which account for over
90% of Laos production, occurred next to infected factory farms.

The lethal bird flu outbreaks took place in large factory farms in Netherlands in 2003, Japan in 2004 and Egypt in 2006. The Nigerian outbreak earlier this year occurred in a single factory farm distant from hot spots of migratory birds, but known for importing unregulated hatchable eggs.

In September 2004, Cambodian authorities noted that the source of bird flu outbreak was chicks supplied by the Thai company, Charoen Pokphand. This company dominates the feed industry and is the biggest supplier of chicks to China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Turkey, which have witnessed bird flu outbreaks. Ukraine, where bird flu occurred, imported 12 million live birds in 2004.

Russian authorities pointed out that feed as one of the main suspected sources of an H5N1 outbreak at a large factory farm in Kurgan province.

A newsletter of e-Pharmail said the outbreak of avian flu in Maharashtra may be due to inoculating improperly cultured vaccine (inactivated viruses) in poultry, allegedly distributed by Venkateshwara Hatcheries.

Informant: Teresa Binstock


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