Monday, April 24, 2006

Avian Flu and the free range flock

Last week one of our shareholders forwarded me an AP article (Flock-Killing Planned if Bird Flu Found WASHINGTON, Apr. 19, 2006) about the USDA’s plan to kill chickens and turkeys in the event of an Avian Flu outbreak in this country.

Of course I went ballistic because the article said that chickens locked in buildings and cages are much less likely to contact disease than chickens that are outside.

I know, and anyone who gives the matter a moments thought knows, that chickens locked up beak to butt in those chicken concentration camps known as chicken houses are much more susceptible to disease than properly feed and moved pastured chickens are.

Here’s why.

The apologists for the poultry concentration camps argue that since the chickens and turkeys locked inside these buildings:
1. never get to see the outdoors,
2. that they never ever see the sun,
3. that they never touch the earth,
4. that they never get to scratch for worms and insects and weed seeds,
5. that (if they are raised for eggs) they are locked 3 or 4 chickens to a cage,
6. that they stand on wire caging and not the earth,
7. that they live in cramped quarters with thousands and thousands of often genetically exact sisters,

Because of this, the argument goes, because these poor chickens are confined they are less likely to come in contact with disease than healthy pastured chickens that are allowed to do all of those natural things like like go outside, scratch, socialize and are allowed relative freedom.

That’s the argument.

And the reasons why that argument doesn’t hold up are many but the first one is obvious.

Assuming that the disease vector for avian flu is from wild bird to domestic birds (and most of the proof is that that is not the vector, but..) but assuming it is just because the confined chickens are locked up doesn’t mean they are separated from the environment.

Example:

Look at these henhouses’ massive ventilation systems. Air from the outside is forcefully pushed through these henhouse with numerous fans, vents and ducts. (if the houses did not circulate air from the outside the confined chickens would soon die).

Now, let’s go back to that flu infected wild bird. In the one case it lands in the pasture and comes in contact with a free bird, infects the free bird, and then that bird infects the other birds.

But let’s take the same hypothetically flu infected wild bird. What if instead of landing in the pasture it lands on the roof of the warehouse where the confined chickens are housed, lands right next to those massive fans, and as it does, as chickens do, it relieves itself.

Instead of the virus coming in contact with the one bird suddenly there is an entire henhouse with thousands and thousands of genetically similar birds inhaling the flu virus.

Ask yourself, which flock would sooner become infected?

The fact is, confined chickens are much, much more susceptible to disease than free range chickens.

An important point, though There is a lot of proof that avian flu is not being spread by wild birds, but instead it is spread by the corporate poultry industry itself. But I’m not the expert. A good webpage with an excellent paper on the issue is www.grain.org.

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