| The battle against Exotic Newcastle Disease (END) in
U.S. poultry has taken a turn for the worse as the disease, previously
found only in Southern California, has spread to Nevada where federal
workers have started destroying birds as part of a preventative eradication
The disease has already devastated the bird population of Southern
California. As a result, the governor has declared a state of emergency
and has imposed extraordinary measures to prevent the spread to more
northern counties, such as Merced and Fresno, where some of the state's
biggest poultry producers are located. California officials have also
instituted a ban on the movement of poultry in several Southern California
counties and have launched a survey to check the health of so-called
Initially, this highly virulent disease had been found in only backyard
flocks, but has since spread to six commercial flocks. As a result,
the state has killed more than 1.7 million birds, including an estimated
82,000 backyard birds.
"While this battle to eradicate the disease through mass slaughter
continues, the primary focus will be the economic value of poultry
and poultry products and the effect of this disease on international
trade," says Tamiko Thomas, an animal scientist and program manager
with the Farm Animals and Sustainable Agriculture section of The HSUS.
"What will receive much less attention is the welfare of the
millions of birds that have been slaughtered and what it is about
modern agriculture that predisposes it to problems of this sort."
END is a highly contagious and fatal viral disease that affects all
species of birds. The disease affects the respiratory, digestive,
and nervous system. Symptoms include sneezing, gasping, nasal discharge,
greenish, watery diarrhea, muscular tremors, drooping wings, swelling
of the head, and complete paralysis. END is so virulent birds can
die without showing any clinical signs.
State and federal animal health officials are attempting to eradicate
END by destroying all infected flocks. What's more, the emergency
declaration means they can also destroy flocks as a preventative measure.
It's unclear yet whether there's a more bird friendly way to deal
with this emergency.
"This kind of mass eradication has already been tried in California
in the 1970s when END was found," Thomas says. "Before the
disease was finally halted, some 12 million birds had been slaughtered
over three years, at a cost of $56 million."
The Meating Place, an online industry newsletter, acknowledges that
the eradication program even causes people in the industry to pick
sides: "There is an emerging rift between knowledgeable egg-industry
veterinarians who favor quarantine, limited depletion and intensified
vaccination, and regulatory veterinarians, who are pursuing a 'traditional'
program of detection and slaughter."
What's clear, however, is that competition and an emphasis on cheap
food have driven the concentration of the poultry industry to the
point where a million birds can be found on a single factory farm.
This concentration has made industrial agriculture vulnerable to the
spread of disease, and hence also bioterrorism. Many feel this is
threatening the security of our food supply.
While being part of a small flock will not protect birds from contracting
Exotic Newcastle Disease, it does lessen the body count. It is difficult
for the disease to travel from farm to farm, but once it is found
in a flock, the standard veterinary practice is to destroy the entire
flock. Because of this approach, the number of birds slaughtered in
California has shot up by more than twenty fold, thanks to the disease
found in the six commercial flocks.
"This systematic killing of suspect flocks is a rather blunt
instrument of eradication and shows little consideration and sensitivity
for birds not raised for production but as companions," Thomas
One vocal opponent of the eradication effort is Cherylynn Costner,
the President of the Hillary Chicken Memorial Fund, which is a non-profit
based in California. Costner helps save domesticated and exotic birds
and is concerned for California's companion birds. She feels that
this eradication effort is wrongfully protecting the economic interests
of a select group of individuals and corporations, the poultry industry,
while causing anguish and loss for another group.
Copyright © 2003 The Humane Society of the United States. All
United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes the
compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. For more
information, go to www.UPC-online.org.
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.|
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
(UPC Evaluation of Future Trends In Animal Agriculture Symposium)