Animal Aid


Posted 21 February 2006

DEFRA Minister Ben Bradshaw assured the public on Sunday (BBC Radio 4 News, February 19) that the British poultry industry was 'very well prepared' for avian flu and has 'extremely high levels of biosecurity'. (Note 1) The following day, however, Animal Aid photographed tons of poultry-shed waste that had been dumped on agricultural land in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire - the setting for BBC TV's Last of the Summer Wine. The waste contained body parts and feathers.

The best available evidence points to avian flu being caused - and spread by - the intensive poultry industry. In fact, H5N1 is reported to have developed as a result of Chinese poultry farmers putting an anti viral drug - meant for humans - into the drinking water of millions of chickens in an ultimately failed attempt to cure avian flu. The consequence, it is claimed, was that the virus evolved into the drug resistant H5N1 strain. (Note 2 & 3)

And yet the global poultry industry has succeeded in diverting blame for avian flu onto wild birds.

According to Dr Leon Bennun, Director of Science for BirdLife International, 'If wild birds had been spreading the disease across continents there would have been trails of outbreaks following migration routes; but this hasn't happened. The "wild bird" theory for the spread of H5N1 also provides no explanation as to why certain countries on flight paths of birds from Asia remain flu-free, whilst their neighbours suffer repeated infections. Countries which have not yet developed a large-scale intensive poultry industry have been largely spared. (Note 3)

Dr Bennun believes that the swans now dying in Western Europe picked up the virus from farms in the Black Sea region - either from infected poultry or their faeces. Mute swans often graze agricultural fields, and they are likely to have come into contact with poultry manure spread as a fertiliser.

The Holmfirth discovery illustrates that poultry waste - swept from sheds that hold scores of thousands of broiler birds - is spread onto fields in Britain too, after the inhabitants are removed and taken for slaughter. As well as faeces, the waste will contain the decomposing carcasses of some of the hundreds of birds who died from disease or emaciation during the six week production period. Salmonella, campylobacter and listeria are among the pathogens found inside the sheds.

Diseased material can also be taken into poultry sheds, despite them being nominally sealed to the outside world. An expert in the field has indicated that H5N1 can enter the units - by way of faecal traces or moisture in the air - through the medium of feed, water, supplies, cages, clothes, delivery vehicles, mammals and even insects. (Note 4)

Says Animal Aid Director, Andrew Tyler:

'The government has been conned or bullied into shifting the blame for avian flu from where it belongs - with the intensive poultry industry - onto wild birds. Broiler sheds are perfect breeding grounds for new and deadly viruses and there are any number of ways that they can spread across countries and continents. Cooked chicken might be purged of viruses but how safe are the bodies of dead birds - fresh from supermarket chillers - that reside in millions of fridges around the country? Animal Aid calls for a boycott of all chicken products as a means of waking up the government, the industry and the consumer to the vile and deadly nature of intensive poultry production.'

Notes to Editors

  1. Recent history shows that neither DEFRA nor the livestock industry can be trusted on matters of disease prevention. The post-foot and mouth 'biosecurity' measures were shown to be a sham by an Animal Aid investigation, published May 2004, which revealed that livestock markets were uniformly disregarding the most basic hygiene rules. See Dirty Business. Animal Aid MarketWatchers visited 13 sales between June 2003 and March 2004 to monitor adherence to biosecurity measures that had been introduced to prevent another outbreak of foot and mouth (f&m) disease, or similar catastrophe. Markets were shown to have played a central role in the wide and rapid dissemination of f&m, due to the large number of animals who pass through them - often to far-flung locations. As a consequence, they were shut down during the 2001 outbreak and its immediate aftermath. At all 13 sales, we saw the most basic biosecurity rule being disregarded. This requires that everyone disinfects his or her footwear on leaving the animal area. Non-observance of this key rule was even found at Longtown market, which a report by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) identified as the epicentre of the 2001 f&m outbreak.
  2. According to a Washington Post report last June 18, Chinese farmers, with the knowledge and support of government officials, used amantadine on chickens as long ago as the late 1990s. The report called the drug use a violation of international livestock guidelines. The consequence, it is reported, was that the virus evolved into the drug resistant H5N1 strain. (See also note 3)
  3. See this BBC article. Dr Bennun points out that intensive poultry sheds provide perfect breeding grounds for diseases such as avian flu: '... the high density of birds and constant exposure to faeces, saliva and other secretions provide ideal conditions for the replication, mutation, recombination and selection through which highly lethal forms can evolve.'
  4. Avian influenza Outbreak hits the industry again, Dr Mohammad Yousaf, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan, World Poultry, Vol 20 No 3 2004.
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