Halt poultry farming

by Andy Oram

It may seem uncivil to say this in light of the upcoming U.S. holiday
Thanksgiving, but I wonder why the governments of the world have not
announced a total ban on raising poultry. The dense concentrations of
birds provide incubators for new strains of avian flu, one of which
will eventually break out and cause perhaps the worst disaster in the
history of mankind.

It would be unfeasible to ban all domestic foul, such as the handful
of chickens in the yard of a middle-class household, but governments
could certainly shut down the enormous prison-like facilities where
thousands of birds are kept in cruel and unhealthy conditions; the
conditions most conducive to outbreaks of disease. Consumers can
substitute vegetable sources of food for poultry and eggs--not an easy
way to bake a cake, but certainly enough for a healthy diet.

And if no one can stomach the fight necessary to deny a living to the
Purdues of the world, there are intermediate steps that could be
taken, such as cutting down on the number of poultry and ensuring they
have more space and air.

Recent strains of avian flu have killed half the people they infect.
How many hundreds of millions of deaths is it worth to have your
Thanksgiving turkey?


2005-11-16 06:20:57
Andy, you've got it exactly backwards
It's when humans live in close proximity to their fowl, day by day, that the flu has the opportunity to break out. Why do you think all the flu variations start in south-east Asia, where people prefer to kill their poultry themselves, at home? When the birds are isolated from human contact, the virus mutations don't have multiple daily opportunities to cross the species barrier.
2005-11-16 06:26:29
Need more info ...

How many hundreds of millions of deaths is it worth to have your Thanksgiving turkey?

Hmmm ... are you including stuffing and hot rolls?

2005-11-16 09:10:53
Andy, you've got it exactly backwards
Thanks for the information. But suppose we could reduce the creation of new strains of the virus, before the birds come in contact with people? I have read that new diseases are much more common among factory-like concentrations of animals than in more traditional farm settings.
2005-11-16 10:04:46
Being practical
The actual path most of these flu viruses take is from migratory wild fowl to domestic birds. From there they cross the barn yard to pigs, who're biologically more like humans, and thence they adapt to people. That's why Asia is the source of many of these flus. There ponds mix migratory and domestic birds and pigs are mixed with domestic birds on the same farm. It's this mixing of species that's the problem and not the sheer numbers of any one species.

The U.S. approach, with huge barns filled with closely monitored chickens grown from carefully controlled eggs, is actually less like to adapt or spread the virus. They are indoors, so there's no contact with wild animals or other sorts of farm animals and thus no easy means for the virus to spread or adapt. And the sheer size of the operation means the animals are closely watched. When a single sick chicken can infect thousands, it's worth going to a lot of trouble to keep out infection.

The difficulty with U.S. and European agriculture comes from a different direction, a focus on efficiency and not wasting anything. Everything is recycled. When I worked with chickens, their manure was mixed with cattle feed. Similarly, the unused portions of slaughtered cattle and sheep is fed to other animals, creating a mechanism for something like mad cow disease to spread between species and thence to humans.

We need to be careful not to turn to solutions that'll merely drive up costs without providing any real protection from the real source of problems.

2005-11-16 12:15:54
and while we are at it...
lets ban people from living together in cities. This leads to exactly the same problem, except with much worse consequences, since there is no need for the virus to jump species.
2005-11-16 13:41:34
Risks and Human Behavior
You're asking such a big question, it's difficult for me to respond without consciously generalizing the subject--develop an abstraction you might say.

Another way to approach this scenario is to ask the question "Why do people take risks with certain behaviors that have detrimental effects?"

The two most preventable causes of death are smoking and obesity. Even though people know that certain behaviors cause death, people often choose to perpetuate these behaviors because the perceived benefits of continuing seem greater than stopping or the effort of stopping seems greater than the benefit of being free of the behavior. Or perhaps sheer denial and unawareness.

You made statement about the governments of the world suddenly banning all domestic foul. While I certainly hate to stand by and watch people make horrible decisions (or make them myself), I think watching the governments of the world exert the kind of force necessary to stop thousands of years of collective behavior would be worse.

2005-11-16 18:20:29
Andy, you've got it exactly backwards
Sorry, but influenza doesn't work that way. It's global, it's endemic in wild fowl, and it mutates frequently. Eliminating industrial poultry farms won't change that.

Although factory farms may lead to more sickly fowl overall, they also put an evolutionary pressure on strains of influenza that are circulate among birds, not people. The alternative is the return to the family farm where domestic birds, pigs and people circulate freely, selecting influenza mutations that favor crossing the species barrier and infect people instead of just birds.

So while your intentions are noble, eliminating factory poultry farms will be very costly and have little to no impact on preventing new influenza outbreaks in people. Influenza is a public health issue. If we're going to fight it effectively, we need to focus on a strong public health apparatus, not debates about food.