Conference: "Two Days of Thinking About Animals in Canada" Feb. 24 & 25
A Conference Organized By the Department of Sociology & Canadian Studies at Brock University, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada
Machipongo. Va. - On April 5, 2004, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ordered 19 million birds killed to control the avian influenza found in British Columbia on February 18. The virus, which affects the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems of birds, has spread throughout the world over the past three years. In British Columbia, news that avian flu had infected some large poultry flocks in the Fraser Valley was followed by an announcement that all commercial and backyard flocks in the Fraser Valley were to be killed. Although the majority of the birds were expected to test negative for the virus, even pet chickens who tested negative were "preemptively" destroyed. .
Government/industry in North America and China insist that the preemptive strike policy is necessary to control the disease, protect public health, and "save" the poultry and egg industries, but not everyone agrees. For example, Theresa Manavalan, a prominent Malaysian journalist, said that poultry (and pigs) are not the culprits: "It’s actually us. And our horrible farm practices, outdated agricultural policy and, most of all, reckless disregard of our ecology and environment."
Despite similar criticism in the US and Canada, a national avian influenza forum in British Columbia, in October 2004, had "nothing on the agenda about animal welfare," according to Debra Probert, Executive Director of the Vancouver Humane Society, who attended the forum. What mattered apparently was "getting the ‘product’ out to the consumer with no price increase." The fact that poultry workers themselves and the intensive confinement of so many genetically identical birds spread the virus was ignored.
Speculation that many flocks in the recent US epidemic were intentionally "stricken" with avian flu to reduce flock sizes and enable producers to benefit from generous tax-supported government indemnities is not unwarranted. Indeed, in 1972, when the Newcastle avian flu virus broke out in southern California, resulting in the intentional killing of over 9 million laying hens, some scientists at the time, according to historian Page Smith and biologist Charles Daniel in The Chicken Book (1975), "were convinced that the slaughter was unnecessary." But since the egg industry was well compensated by the government and the exterminations raised prices, producers quietly cooperated with government agents in the mass killings.
Focusing attention on birds, Davis will discuss the ethical issues surrounding the mass-extermination of "food" animals, including the argument that these animals are going to be killed anyway, and the proposal that such exterminations could be justified if public outrage prompted by media coverage of the inhumane killings would increase the number of vegetarians. The talk, which is scheduled for Friday, February 25, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., will be posted online later prior to the conference at www.upc-online.org.