December 23, 2005


Asian falooey
by Craig Volland

The latest product from our Washington DC fear factory is the impending Asian flu pandemic.

I have a hard time believing anything I hear these days from “the authorities” (other than what I say, of course). There’s always some dollars floating about in the background as every special interest gets their oar in the water. The biggest problem we have in the US is the near total corruption of our information systems by corporate and ideological interests.

Last month a duck got sick at a big poultry farm in British Columbia in Canada. It had, gasp, the flu! The US government immediately shut down the border. Tests showed it was a low pathogenic strain found commonly in North America. Canadian authorities said there was no immediate risk to domestic birds, but they killed 60,000 ducks and geese at the farm anyway. Dr. Michael Osterholm, an expert at the University of Minnesota, said a few days later, ”I personally don’t understand the science behind the government’s decision.”

Meanwhile this whole thing is based on the death of less than 100 people in Asia who have been affected by a particular strain that scientists believe is caught from close contact with chickens A few years back it was pigs.

While this loss of life is tragic, there are 3+ billion people in south and East Asia, many of whom have been living among chickens and pigs in their backyards for millennia. Since we know that viruses are parasites present in all animals, it stands to reason that people have been dying from this in small numbers all along.

Until recently, though, the cause would have been classified as “unspecified respiratory disease.” Or those deaths would not have been noticed at all above the general noise and mayhem of human affairs. Only in recent decades has the analytical technology been developed to distinguish one virus from another. Sure, every once in a very long while, things align so that a major, devastating disease breaks out. So this is probably worth watching, but pleazzzz, let’s tone it down.

Here’s the kind of baloney that results when we don’t.

The New York Times food writer, Marian Burros reported on Nov.2 that the USDA is discussing the possibility that free-range poultry would have to be confined indoors if the avian flu gets into the US. The agency is concerned that wild birds will infect chickens and turkeys.

The USDA just spent the last five decades helping build the massive system of animal factories in this country called confined animal feeding operations or CAFOs. The idea was that we could rake in a lot more cash if we ran our bountiful grain crops through animals and exported the high value meat instead. Industrial Ag claims that their CAFOs are covered so that turd bombs from the flying yellow peril will splat harmlessly on the roof.

This is absurd, of course. So-called modern CAFOs must be heavily ventilated not only because of heat but also because of the buildup of carbon dioxide, ammonia, fecal particles and, in some cases, deadly hydrogen sulfide. In fact, entire herds of pigs or flocks of chickens have died from failure of ventilation fans and standby generators. When a bird poops upwind of a CAFO, the virus can easily find its way into the barn, whereupon, it will spread quickly among the animals in close confinement.

On Oct 26, U. S. Rep. John Dingell of Michigan wrote his colleagues, “There are emerging concerns being raised about large, concentrated poultry animal feeding operations and the spread of avian flu. The bird flu epidemic in Indonesia reportedly originated in large commercial poultry farms. The World Health Organization (2004) lists ‘increasingly concentrated animal husbandry practices and increased usage of concentrated feedlots’ as one of the underlying driving forces for emerging zoonotic waterborne pathogens.”

Dingell was writing in opposition to an attempt to exempt large animal feedlots from liability for Superfund clean up and from reporting emissions of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.

In the Times article, Dr. David Halvorson, a veterinarian and professor of avian health at the University of Minnesota states, ”There are a lot of layers of people fighting against poultry outdoors, and it may be for their own reasons that have nothing to do with health and safety.” Bingo!

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Virginia, said they’ll have to put him in jail to stop him from raising chickens in pasture. His movable, outdoor cages have solid covers that prevent bird droppings from entering and preventing wild birds from drinking the chickens’ water. Meanwhile, TV media hypers are emphasizing its OK to eat supermarket chicken if it is thoroughly cooked. That not only kills any avian flu bugs, but all the antibiotic resistant bacteria.

I eat meat occasionally. But it has often occurred to me that all the farm animals we so badly mistreat, despite their service to us, get their revenge when we keel over from clogged arteries.

A prominent historian recently stated that the average life span of humans during the first few thousand years of the Neolithic (agricultural) age was only 32 -35 years, actually less than before during our hunting and gathering stage. He attributed the decline to the greater consumption animal products from herding activities.

There are risks to eating animals. We shouldn’t punish them with merciless killings when things go awry from time to time. Of course, the powers-that-be will soon find a way to scare us with a plant virus. Well now I’ll be stowin’ me oar for next time.

Craig Volland is co-coordinator of the Kansas City Food Circle and Chair of the CAFO and Agriculture Committees of the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club.


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