United Poultry Concerns February 13 , 2004


Sponsored by Animal Place, Animal Welfare Trust, Farm Sanctuary, The Fund for Animals, Glaser Progress Foundation, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Feb.12, 2004
Number 41, Volume 2

Nearly 1,000 news photographs documenting the avian influenza epidemic can be found at:

1. Asian Epidemic
2. The Cause
3. Cover-up
4. Killing Methods
5. Hazardous to Humans
6. Live Markets, Cockfighting & Compensation
7. Problematic Production
8. Critical Commentaries
9. Trade Bans; U.S. Outbreak
10 Vaccinating Instead of Killing
11 Public Relations

Over 50 million chickens, ducks and turkeys have been massacred in 10 countries that are attempting to control an epidemic of avian influenza (AI) {1} that is spreading "almost uncontrollably" through Asia {2}. The affected countries are home to over 6.6 billion birds who are raised for food {3}. AI is an infectious viral disease that primarily affects birds but can also infect other species. The circulating strain, H5N1, was first found to also be lethal to humans during a 1997 outbreak in Hong Kong which sickened 18 and killed 6 {4}, a 30% mortality rate. The present strain is believed to be more virulent, having a human mortality rate of 60-70% {5}. To date, 19 people have died: 14 in Viet Nam and 5 in Thailand {6}. Other countries reporting the deadly strain are Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, South Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam. China and Pakistan have reported less virulent strains. Mass bird kills are ongoing in China (including Taiwan), Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan and Viet Nam {7}.

It is suspected that H5N1 was initially disseminated through a faulty mass poultry vaccination by Chinese farmers anxious to ward off Hong Kong's 1997 epidemic {8}, which ended with the killing of the territory's 1.5 million poultry population {5}. (Last year, an AI epidemic in the Netherlands resulted in one human death and the massacre of 30.7 million birds, with a cost to the government of $344 million {9}.) The AI virus is shed both orally and in feces, and infects both domestic and wild birds, all of which aid in its spread {8}. The spread and severity of the current outbreaks are unprecedented {10}. Some experts blame migratory birds for the virus's spread but others say there is no evidence that is true {8, 11}. (Migratory waterfowl are more resistant to infection while chickens and turkeys are more susceptible to epidemics {12}.)

The pattern of spread indicates the virus has been carried by people smuggling poultry and other birds, reportedly a widespread practice in south-east Asia {8, 11}. There is a vast Asian trade in wild birds for the pet industry. "The birds are caged in stressful, unnatural and often unhygienic conditions during transport and in the markets themselves where they are forced to stand beak to beak with both wild and domestic birds, and handled by humans - all providing the ideal conditions for transmission of disease," said William Karesh, a veterinarian with the Wildlife Conservation Society. The organization notes that the closure of wild bird markets would reduce spread of the disease. The European Union has banned the import of wild birds from afflicted nations {13}.

Chinese officials said the disease was first detected there in late January but it is suspected that the epidemic erupted in China as long as a year ago and was able to become a raging epidemic as a result of official cover-up and dubious agricultural practices {8}. Large numbers of chickens were dying as long ago as July in Viet Nam, then Thailand and Indonesia, but the governments denied AI was the cause {10}. Laos is also accused of a cover up {14}. The World Health Organization (WHO) has accused China of withholding vital details {15}, and joined a leading public health expert in expressing doubt that China hasn't had any human cases {16, 17}. China recently ordered the isolation of 1,418 people, mostly farmers {18}. (It is disturbingly similar to China's disaster with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which was also initially kept quiet and ended up infecting [over] 8,000 people in 30 countries and cost the region $60 billion {18}. Countless nonhuman animals were killed in an attempt to control the disease.)

The WHO called for the massacre of all birds exposed to the disease {19}. There are no international regulations governing how to kill birds for disease control {20}, and the methods being used to kill them include burning, drowning, gassing and live burial {19}. "As soon as 500 died, we had to bury the other 20,000 alive," stated a Thai farmer {21}. In Bali, thousands of live hens were set on fire (graphic photo: http://tinyurl.com/3ghjt ) {22}, some of whom were also kicked and beaten {23}, with a total of 228, 000 burned {6}. [It's not clear if all of them were alive when burned.] The most common killing method has been to stuff live birds into plastic bags and bury them in mass graves (see photo: http://tinyurl.com/2g7n4 ). Animal protection activists in Thailand have protested that this is in violation of both animal protection and disease control laws {19, 20}. Had the government revealed the outbreak earlier the killing could have been done less inhumanely, they note. In some cases, chickens have their necks wrung or are bashed to death with a stick prior to being buried. Workers have said they are traumatized by having to kill so many chickens, particularly as they often did so over the emotional protests of farmers. "I pray for the chickens every night. But when I wake up the next morning, I have to do the same job again. It's no different from being an executioner," one of them told a reporter {24}.

A Taiwanese official said a tranquilizer is put in the water supply and "some [birds] go to sleep while others just die" before they are put in bags and buried or burned {19}. In an AI outbreak in the Netherlands last year, birds were gassed to death with cyanide {20}. Disease contingency plans for European Union countries include the use of mobile gassing trucks {16}, while Australia recommends neck breaking {20}.

Wild birds are also being poisoned and shot in large numbers by government order and by individuals who fear the birds are spreading the disease {11, 25}. Experts warn that some migratory species are rare and their extinction could have ecological consequences {11, 13, 16, 26}.

WHO has warned that hazardous killing methods are increasing the risk of viral transmission to humans {27}. Some workers are not wearing gloves or masks, and soldiers ordered to kill the birds molded their protective shower caps to look like berets {20}. In Viet Nam, infected birds are reportedly being buried without bags or any other barrier to prevent contamination and pollution of the environment {19}. Of particular concern is the chance that a person becomes simultaneously infected with both human flu virus and avian flu virus, enabling the viruses to exchange genes and create a hybrid for which there is no immunity {28}. So far, people have caught the disease through contact with infected birds or contaminated bird droppings {14}, though human-to-human transmission may be possible {29}. If the virus mutates into a form that can be transmitted between people, as was the case with SARS {30}, it could kill millions {6}.

Pigs are susceptible to viruses that infect humans and those that infect birds, and it is feared that they could serve to combine the viruses {12}. (It's unknown whether pigs can contract this virus. In China, 800 live pigs smuggled from Viet Nam were set on fire {31}. [In South Korea, piglets were buried alive.]) Alternatively, the quickly mutating H5N1 could also become efficient at spreading among people {32}. The virus has proven resistant to all but the more expensive prophylactic anti-viral drugs, and they may be in short supply {33}. The WHO said countries should begin to consider stockpiling them {27}. A human vaccine would take at least half a year to develop, test and mass produce {33}.

It was determined that the human cases during the 1997 Hong Kong outbreak were all caused by close contact with live poultry. In Hong Kong, "Chinese people loved to go to the markets to choose live chickens and have them killed"{34}. The disease was spread by transporting the birds and moving equipment between farms and markets {35}. The WHO says live bird markets have played an important role in spreading the disease {12 (see also item #5: http://tinyurl.com/2nvee )} and it therefore advises that such marketing be discouraged in areas experiencing H5N1 outbreaks {4}. Manjit Bhatia, a political analyst specializing in Asian affairs writes: "Asia has the world's most disgusting social organisation and management of its live-animal and bird markets. There is wanton abuse of animal rights and the general environmental conditions at these markets are persistently filthy. All hygiene aspects are seriously questionable. Health practices are poorly regulated. Where regulations exist, corrupt officials often ignore them. On any given day, these markets - and the farms where live birds are bred and where agricultural practices are equally foul - possess all the natural conditions for incubating and delivering deadly diseases" {36}. (See also "Trade Bans; U.S. Outbreaks" below.)

Cockfighting has also been implicated in the disease's spread because of the long distances the birds are transported {11 (see also item #6: http://tinyurl.com/2nvee )}, and Thailand has temporarily banned it {37}. People with these birds are resisting killing them because they say the compensation they would receive is inadequate {38}. The government is offering farmers 25% of the market value of birds killed to control the disease {39}. The mass extermination is economically devastating the countries involved {16}, with chicken farming said to be the only means of earning a living in some areas {21}. International agencies are calling for wealthy nations to aid in compensating farmers {28} who may otherwise resist exterminating flocks {40}.

Many farmers in Asia live closely with chickens. Noting that this raises their risk of being infected with AI , a regional WHO spokesperson commented: "They have to completely change their lifestyle and attitude toward animal[s]." He pointed out that AI can be more easily controlled when farms are concentrated, as in Japan and South Korea, rather than spaced out, as they are in Thailand and Viet Nam {34}. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has also called for "a fundamental change in attitudes," insisting that traditional farming practices be modernized, with chickens "cooped up and fenced in" {37}.
(Singapore has banned small-scale chicken farming in a major rural community, ordering that remaining birds be caged to prevent contact with wild birds {30}. Free range poultry farmers in Australia have been instructed to move birds indoors or provide them with roofed enclosures to avoid contact with migratory birds {29}.) However, Hans-Gerhard Wagner, a WHO animal production and health officer, points out that intensive industrial farming promotes emerging diseases. Crowded and unsanitary conditions common to commercial farming can transform domestic fowl into "veritable flu-making factories" {41}. David Byrne, the European commissioner for health and consumer protection, said that the greater difficulty in preventing disease in outdoor flocks compared to large commercial units may accelerate trends toward industrializing operations in affected countries, with associated negative social and environmental consequences {3}.

During the 1990's, China tripled its poultry production{41}, last year producing 8 billion chickens, mostly on small, cramped farms {30}. In Thailand, large complexes have been created specifically to produce poultry for export {39}. Asia, home to nearly a third of the human population {38}, has about 40% of the world's poultry {3}. Asian demand for meat is expected to double by 2020. Intensive farming, with concentrations of animals living in close proximity to humans, has boosted the incidence of animal diseases affecting humans. "As soon as you have this constellation - high density of animals and close association with humans - you are quite likely to get some increased transmission, if not even generation, of new disease agents," Samuel Jutzi, the director of FAO's animal production and health division, said recently. "The frequency of outbreaks...has certainly increased due to the increased concentration of animals, and at the same time the impact is massively higher," he said {42}.

Theresa Manavalan, a prominent Malaysian journalist, comments: "But make no mistake, the pig is not the villain, neither is the chicken. It's actually us. And our horrible farm practices, outdated agricultural policy and, most of all, reckless disregard of our ecology and environment." Denouncing the crowded and dirty conditions in which farmed animals are obstinately kept, Manavalan points out that, of the 35 emerging human diseases in the last 20 years, more than 70% have involved other animals. "What we may have done," she warns, "is unwittingly create the perfect launch pad for an influenza pandemic that will likely kill large numbers of people across the globe {43}." In a Newsday opinion piece, animal-rights advocates Peter Singer and Karen Dawn contend that slaughtering animals for emergency disease control is more justifiable than slaughtering them for food {44}.

In addition to the extermination of live animals, tons of chicken meat have been destroyed {45} and millions of slaughtered chicken and eggs are stuck in storage due to trade bans other countries have put in place since the disease was announced {15}. It may be years before the bans are lifted {39}. Asia accounted for 25% of world trade in poultry {3}.

In the U.S., an outbreak of AI in Delaware this month has led to the killing of 12,000 chickens. The virus is said to be a less virulent strain but tests to confirm that could take weeks. Russia, the top buyer of U.S. poultry, and several other countries, including some with H5N1, have banned U.S. exports. The U.S. exports about 15% of its chicken production, worth about $2 billion per year. Delaware produces about 4% of U.S. production {46}. The Delaware operation sold birds at New York City live markets, which is where the disease is thought to have been contracted {47, 48 (see also item#5: http://tinyurl.com/2y4kh )}. The 12,000 chickens were gassed and their bodies composted {48}. The virus has since been found in a 2nd Delaware operation with 74,000 birds who have been killed and buried {49}. "This development is completely unexpected given the precautions we took, the investigation we made and the industry's expectations of this disease's behavior," said the state's Agriculture Secretary {50}. Today it was reported that 4 live chicken markets in New Jersey have tested positive for the same strain of AI. (N.J. has about 35 such markets, and test results have been returned for about half of them.) Health officials stressed that the findings are not unusual for the state's live markets. "They can be doing everything right and still have a market that tests positive," the state vet said: http://tinyurl.com/2s4es (see also: http://www.upc-online.org/livemarkets/ ) In 2002, a mild strain of AI in Virginia prompted officials to order the killing of 4.7 million birds {51}.

The WHO has said it could take up to 2 years to bring the outbreak under full control {50}. Vaccinating chickens in the region would not eliminate the virus since birds who appear healthy but are already infected would continue to spread it {33}. At an emergency international meeting, the FAO & WHO reluctantly agreed that vaccinating rather than killing uninfected birds in the proximity of affected areas would be acceptable. This concession was made due to concerns over the economic impacts of wholesale slaughter {52}. "If you do nothing, they die," cautioned an FAO official, "But if you vaccinate and it's not well done, they live and keep the virus and still spread it" {53}. Since then, the WHO has criticized some countries for putting economic interests above human health concerns by resorting to vaccinating instead of killing birds in infected areas {54}.

In an attempt to overcome the public's qualms toward poultry meat, leading Chinese officials have made a point of eating it with great publicity. Among them is the executive vice minister of health, a (former) vegetarian who ate chicken last week for the first time in 30 years. China's main propaganda outlet acknowledged that the meals suggest an official shift "from traditional propaganda to Western-style political communications skills to handle crises." Henry Niman, a Harvard University Medical School instructor, remarked, "The virus doesn't pay a whole lot of attention to what the officials are doing. I don't know that the public does, either"{55}.

In Thailand, KFC gave away 50,000 pieces of chicken "to save the country's chicken business as a whole" {56}. The government sponsored a free public feast to encourage people to eat more chicken and help the industry. The government also held a Buddhist ceremony to bless the spirits of the 26 million chickens slaughtered en masse there. "We feel guilty because we are Buddhist," said one official who explained that the ceremony "can make us feel relaxed and apologize to the souls of the dead chickens." Afterward, the 108 monks who chanted blessings were presented with a meal of fried chicken and chicken curry {57}.

1. "UN Agencies Call For Poultry Vaccination to Fight Bird Flu," CBC News, Feb. 6, 2004.
2. "FAO Urges Vaccination to Stem AI Outbreak," Meating Place, Bill McDowell, Feb. 6, 2004. http://www.meatingplace.com/DailyNews/pop.asp?ID=11826
3. "David Byrne: European Commissioner For Health And Consumer Protection: Avian Influenza And Imports: Declaration at The European Parliament," Speech/04/66, European Commission, February 10, 2004.
http://tinyurl.com/2rusl or
4. "Avian Influenza A(H5N1): WHO - Weekly Epidemiological Record," January 30, 2004.
5. "Bird Flu Twice as Deadly as Last Outbreak," Reuters, Christina Toh-Pantin, Feb. 8, 2004.
SEE ALSO items #2 & 3 of: http://tinyurl.com/vd7e and item #6 of: http://tinyurl.com/yq24j
6. "Indonesia Reveals Only One Bird Flu Cull, More Outbreaks in China," Agence France Presse, February 11, 2004.
7. "Avian Flu Virus Continues to Spread in Asia: Countries Seeking FAO's Assistance," FAO Press Release, February 4, 2004.
8. "Bird Flu Outbreak Started a Year Ago," New Scientist, Debora MacKenzie, January 4, 2004.
9. "Dutch Poultry Sector Still Hurt by Bird Flu Outbreak," Reuters, Wendel Broere, Jan.13, 2004
10. "Cultures of Denial Raise Epidemic Risks," The Age, January 28, 2004.
11. "Migration Menace?" The Nation (Thailand), Pathomkanok Padkuntod & Theeranuch Pusaksrikit, Feb. 9, 2004.
12. "China Admits Bird Flu 'Weakness,'" CNN, Tom Mintier & Steven Jiang, Feb. 5, 2004.
13. "Avian Flu: Wildlife Experts Say That Closing Overseas Wild Bird Markets Would Help Prevent Spread of Disease," Animal Protection Institute news release, February 3, 2004.
14. "WHO Warns Unsafe Culls Increase Virus Mutation Risk, Asia Bows to Pressure," Agence France Presse, January 30, 2004.
15. "Thai Ships Stuck in Port as Ai Outbreak Rages On," Meating Place, Bill McDowell, Feb. 4, 2004.
16. "Vaccine Option Possible Against Bird Flu," The Globe and Mail, André Picard with reports from Agence France-Presse and Reuters, February 5, 2004.
http://tinyurl.com/3928m or http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20040205/BIRDFLU05/TPHealth/
17. "China Halts Poultry Imports From U.S." The Associated Press, Stephanie Hoo, Feb. 10, 2004.
18. "Small Farms Are Hit Hard in China's Battle With Bird Flu," Washington Post, Edward Cody, February 6, 2004.
19. "Crude Killing Methods Anger Animal Lovers," The Straits Times, William Choong, January 30, 2004.
20. "Thailand's Chicken Slaughter Labelled Inhumane," Reuters, Tessa Unsworth, Jan. 26, 2004.
21. "Thai Poultry Farmers Grieve Losses," BBC News, Tony Cheng, January 27, 2004.
22. World Photos, Reuters, Supri, February 9, 2004
23. "Indonesia Confident Bird Flu Crisis Will Ease in 6 Months' Time," Channel News Asia, Haseenah Koyakutty, February 9, 2004.
24. "Thai Animal Activist Says Chicken Cull Inhumane," Agence France Presse, Jan. 30, 2004.
25. "China Accused of 'Official Cover-up': Bird Flu Sweeping Asia," National Post/Reuters/AP/Globe and Mail/N.Y. Times, January 29, 2004.
26. "Vaccination Push to Combat Bird Flu," The Associated Press, Aidan Lewis, Feb. 5, 2004.
27. "Unsafe Handling Raises Bird Flu Risk," Associated Press/Reuters/Globe and Mail, January 30, 2004.
28. "The Spread of Avian Influenza," The New York Times, Editorial, January 30, 2004.
29. "Chickens Locked Away as Flu Claims 19," The Australian, Fleur Anderson & Danny Buttler, February 3, 2004.
30." Bird Flu Kills Another Asian, Toll Rises to 16," Reuters, Jonathan Ansfield & Christina Toh-Pantin, February 05, 2004.
31. "No Bird Flu in China Officials Say," Agence France-Presse, January 19, 2004.
32. "U.N. Experts Seek to Stop Bird Flu Fears," The Associated Press, February 6, 2004.
33. "Bird Flu Sweeps Through Asia," Nature, Alison Abbott & Helen Pearson, 5 February 2004.
34. "Asia Should Change Lifestyle to Avoid Bird Flu: WHO," China View, February 3, 2003.
35. "High Geographic Concentration of Animals May Have Favoured The Spread of Avian Flu," Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, United Nations) press release, January 28, 2004.
36. "Asia's Fowl Mess," Malaysiakini, Comment, Manjit Bhatia, Feb. 10, 2004.
37. "Bird Flu Spreads Through Asia," Reuters, Clarence Fernandez, February 03, 2004.
http://tinyurl.com/28auq or http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsPackageArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=450707&section=news
38. "Herculean Task to Clean up Asia's Farms," Dominic Whiting, January 29, 2004.
39. "The Asian AI Outbreak And What it Means to The U.S. Poultry Industry," Meating Place, Commentary, Simon Shane, February 2, 2004.
40. "Human-to-Human Transmission Feared," AnimalNet (Associated Press/The Age/Agence France Presse English/Reuters), February 1, 2004.
41. "Health: Flu Fears Take Wing," Newsweek International, International Periscope and Perspectives, Alexandra A. Seno, B. J. Lee, & Kay Itoi, January 26, 2004.
42. "Dangers of Close Proximity," The Straits Times, January 29, 2004.
43. "From Fowl to Pigs to Humans?" New Straits Times, Theresa Manavalan, Feb. 8, 2004.
44. "When Slaughter Makes Sense," Newsday, Peter Singer & Karen Dawn, February 8, 2004.
http://tinyurl.com/3xkun or http://www.nynewsday.com/news/opinion/nyc-vpdaw083661471feb08,0,5945362.story?coll=nyc-viewpoints-headlines
45. "Once Holy, Now Spurned," The Nation, Phermsak Lilakul, February 4, 2004.
46. "U.S. Sees Nations Easing Bird Flu Trade Bans Soon," Reuters, Randy Fabi with David Morgan, February 9, 2004.
http://tinyurl.com/22kso or
47. "USDA: Bird Flu in Delaware Not Same as in Asia," Pro Farmer, Roger Bernard, Feb. 9, 2004
http://tinyurl.com/32f3l or
48. "12,000 Chickens to Be Killed After Avian Flu Discovered," AnimalNet (AP/Agence France Presse/ English/Reuters), February 7, 2004.
49. "Second U.S. Bird Flu Case," Agence France Presse (The Age), February 12, 2004. http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/02/11/1076388432139.html
50. "WHO Says Bird Flu Will Take Time to Beat," Reuters, Darren Schuettler & Stephanie Nebehay with Randy Fabi, February 10 2004.
51. "U.S. Sees Nations Easing Bird Flu Trade Bans Soon," Reuters, Randy Fabi with David Morgan, February 9, 2004.
http://tinyurl.com/22kso or http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsArticle.jhtml?type=scienceNews&storyID=4317125&section=news
52. "FAO/OIE/WHO Call for Targeted Strategy Including Poultry Vaccination to Help Curb Avian Flu," Joint FAO / OIE / WHO news release, February 5, 2004.
53. "FAO Urges Vaccination to Stem AI Outbreak," Meating Place, Bill McDowell, 2/6/04.
54. "WHO Raps Asia over Handling of Bird Flu Crisis as China Reports New Cases," Agence France Presse, February 10, 2004.
55. "Eating Poultry in China a Political Act," The Associated Press, Ted Anthony, February 10, 2004.
56. "KFC Gives Away Free Chicken in Thailand to Restore Consumer Confidence," Watt Poultry USA, Industry News Briefs, February 9, 2004.
57. "Thai Monks Bless Culled Poultry, Then Dine on Chicken," The Sydney Morning Herald, February 11, 2004.

Mary Finelli, Editor
Farmed Animal Watch is a free electronic news digest of information concerning farmed animal issues gleaned from an array of academic, industry, advocacy and mainstream media sources. Previous issues are archived at: http://www.FarmedAnimal.net
To subscribe, contribute information, or comment on Farmed Animal Watch, send a message to: info@FarmedAnimal.net To subscribe, please type "subscribe" in the subject line and include your first and last name, to unsubscribe type "unsubscribe."


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