United Poultry Concerns April, 17 2004


1.  Mandated Slaughter of 19 Million Birds in Canada
2.  Depopulation Rationale and Resistance
3.  Blame
4.  U.S. Outbreaks
5.  Chicken Lobby Backs Anti-Cockfighting Bills; OK Anti-Cockfighting Ruling Upheld
6.  Morbidities/Mortalities; Global Outlook
7.  Killing Concerns
8.  Large-Scale Testing; New Regulations

On April 5th, Canada's Agriculture minister ordered some 19 million birds killed in an effort to control the now-epidemic avian influenza (A.I.) found in British Columbia (B.C.) on February 18th {1}. The virus has infected 25 commercial flocks and 10 "backyard" flocks within the Fraser Valley control area (about 1500 square miles) {10}. All commercial and "backyard" flocks of chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and pigeons in Fraser Valley are to be killed, amounting to 80% of the province's $1 billion industry. {1} B.C. produces 15% of Canada's chickens {2}, and about 80% of B.C. poultry operations are in or near the Fraser Valley area {11}. About three-quarters of the birds are expected to test negative for the virus. Those who do can continue through the production cycle to be slaughtered and processed for use as human food. {10}

The depopulation is expected to take 6-8 weeks {1}. After the virus jumped from 5 to 18 operations in a week {5} (from 8 to 18 within a day {7}), industry proposed the plan {5} but, claiming it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars {4}, said it would only support it if it included compensation from the government {5}. Producers are to be compensated, and processors and others might be, also {1, 5}. The local industry wanted only infected birds killed but Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC: http://www.chicken.ca ), the national organization,  advocated the region be totally depopulated on the grounds that it would enable quicker recovery and resumption of exports {7}.

Canada and the U.S., which has also had recent A.I. outbreaks (see section #4), together accounted for 50% of global chicken meat exports. They are both now experiencing poultry export bans by many countries. Both are also subject to wide-scale beef bans due to "mad cow" disease (see http://tinyurl.com/3ce84 ). Together they accounted for more than a quarter of global beef exports. {31} The A.I. outbreaks also affect the grain trade, with chickens consuming 16% of the world's coarse grains (mostly corn), 26% of its oilmeals (mostly soy), and 6% of its wheat. This and more information can be found in: "Economic Consequences of Meat, Poultry Diseases" at: http://tinyurl.com/2b7sp )*

Companion birds are exempt from the kill order, but their definition is limited to certain types of birds who are kept indoors. Some people with companion and/or exotic birds are contesting the order {12, 13}. Exotic birds were spared from an A.I. control program in the Netherlands last year in which 30 million chickens were killed (see item #2 of:  http://tinyurl.com/ys2wa ) {12}.    

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has accused wild waterfowl of being the most likely source of the disease {14, 15, 16}. A Vancouver Sun editorial called for testing of wild birds, noting that "farmers would be more vigilant in keeping their farms clear of wild birds" if they were known to be the flu source {15}. Others, such as Alberta Chicken Producers, point to free-range operations {14}. Initially, however, free-range operations weren't affected but instead large "broiler-breeder"operations were {17}, notes Ron Lewis, B.C.'s chief veterinarian.

While up to 50% of ducks are reported to be carriers (infected but asymptomatic) of the virus {17}, viruses in wild birds generally aren't very dangerous, says U. of Ottawa virologist Earl Brown. "It is high-density chicken farming that gives rise to high-virulent influence viruses," Brown explains, "If you get a virus into a high-density poultry operation and give it a period of time, generally a year or so, then you turn that virus into a highly virulent virus. That's what always happens." {18} The Canadian virus was of low pathogenicity when the first farm was infected but within two weeks it mutated into a highly pathogenic form {8, 3}. (The only known instance of a high-virulence avian flu occurring outside of poultry production was in South Africa in 1961 among terns, who may have been infected by domestic poultry {18}.)

CFC disputes high-density operations being a factor, arguing: "The fact is that once the virus is out there its out there. It doesn't matter if you have 10 chickens on an organic hobby farm or 10,000 in a chicken barn, that virus is going to spread." The organization denies that chickens are overcrowded, pointing to the Canadian code for animal care. A Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) spokesperson dismisses the code as being unenforceable, noting that many farmers haven't even read it. According to Canadian Organic Growers, the high-density factor is exacerbated by the nearly identical genetic makeup of chickens in these operations. {18} These points are elaborated in an April 13th Toronto Star op-ed by VHS's Bruce Passmore, who is also a member of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals. Passmore discusses natural immunity in wildlife, and the vulnerability of intensively produced birds due to their genetic similarity and the conditions to which they are subjected. He calls for welfare conditions to be included in a CFIA investigation into the cause and spread of the disease {19}. A March 15th Washington Post editorial similarly states: "Both the crowded conditions of poultry farms in [the U.S.], and the close proximity of poultry, livestock and humans in Asia, have also multiplied the chances that a new virus will emerge"{20}. (A March 13th Los Angeles Times editorial entitled "More Than a Mad Cow," makes a similar point about cattle confinement and BSE.)

Poultry operation in the U.S. have also recently succumbed to outbreaks of avian influenza (see item #9 of: http://tinyurl.com/ys2wa ), including a highly lethal H5N2 strain that led to the gassing of a 6,600-bird flock in Texas in February {21}. The operation raised birds for live markets in Houston {22}. Live markets are considered breeding grounds for disease {23}. In the northeast U.S., 57% of live markets were found to be contaminated by a mild strain of A.I. {24}. Between New Jersey and New York, there are about 120 of them selling some half-million birds a week {26}. Live markets were implicated for recent outbreaks in Delaware, New Jersey, and a 500,000-bird egg-industry flock in Pennsylvania {21, 23}. The Delaware outbreaks started in February with an operation with 12,000 chickens {23} that sold to live markets in New York City {24}. A second operation raised birds for Perdue. The two cases resulted in 86,000 birds being killed  {25}. In March, 368,000 chickens from three Maryland operations (all owned by one person ) were killed due to an A.I. outbreak {27}.

"We didn't last long in Charlie's dimly lit chicken house: The word stench doesn't come close to describing the overpowering blast of dusty ammonia that seeps into eyes, throat and lungs. Within a few minutes, no more than 10, Charlie turned to us with his shirt over his mouth to mumble, 'Guys, I can't take it anymore.' As the door closed behind us, I realized that these chickens had spent the last eight weeks - essentially, their lifetimes - in a squalor we couldn't stand for 15 minutes. Yet we're surprised when disease breaks out." Journalist Ryan Grim relates his firsthand experience in the Maryland poultry industry in a Bay Weekly article entitled "Big Chicken Gets the Flu," while discussing environmental, economic and political factors contributing to the disease. "When you have an enormous number of birds in disgusting conditions, you're setting yourself up for some really horrible things," says Robert Sprinkle, a physician and associate professor of public policy at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs, "'You can really get creamed." {27} The Delmarva Poultry Industry responds to Grim's lengthy article point by point at: http://tinyurl.com/27b5g   Some of Grim's points are corroborated by a March 14th Washington Times article entitled "Poultry Problems." It offers historical background on the Delmarva (Delaware/Maryland/Virginia) poultry industry and tells of changes it's undergone. For example, newer buildings, housing 100,000 birds, "are pitch-black inside to prevent chickens from running around and losing weight, which necessitates more grain to feed them." {28}

The National Chicken Council (NCC), the main lobbying agent of the poultry industry, has urged the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee to support federal legislation against cockfighting. NCC voiced its support on both humane grounds and for disease control. (Roosters used for fighting were implicated in major exotic Newcastle disease outbreaks the last 2 years in California, see #4: http://tinyurl.com/yrkoo )  "Healthcare in the game-bird world is obviously rudimentary," wrote NCC.  H.R.1532 and S. 736, the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, seeks to amend the federal Animal Welfare Act by increasing animal-fighting penalties. Interstate sale or transfer of cockfighting paraphernalia would also be banned. The United Gamefowl Breeders Association rebuked NCC for siding with animal-rights advocates, and accused the poultry industry of spreading disease by transporting chickens in open-sided vehicles. {29} An extensive article on the connections between A.I., cockfighting and wildlife, with a primary focus on the Asian situation, can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/234bl

On a related note, Oklahoma's supreme court on March 30th upheld the constitutionality of a cockfighting ban voters had approved two years earlier (see #4: http://tinyurl.com/36ce6 ). Through legal maneuvers, cockfighting proponents had suspended enforcement of the ban in about two dozen counties. In its recent ruling the court stated, "At a minimum, the act serves the significant and legitimate public purpose of preventing cruelty to animals and prohibiting human involvement in bird fighting, obviously out of compassion for avian creatures." {30}

Two people have been confirmed to have contracted H7N3, the relatively mild strain of influenza virus which is circulating in Canada {3}. Another ten people are suspected of having been infected. {6} The strain of avian influenza circulating in Asia, the virulent H5N1, has infected hundreds of people, with 32 laboratory-confirmed cases, 22 human deaths, and a mortality rate among documented cases of 70-80% {6,9}. More than 100 million domestic birds have been killed in Asia in an attempt to control the disease {9}. (Up-to-date avian influenza news by country can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/2hg24   An in-depth article about the situation in Asia, which calls it the "worst ever factory farm disaster," can be found in the March issue of Animal People: http://tinyurl.com/3f8js ). "Given how far H5N1 avian influenza has spread, the world will be on the verge of a pandemic for at least a year, more likely two years," said Dr. Klaus Stoehr, Global Influenza Program director at the World Health Organization. {6}

The Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals ( CCFA: http://www.humanefood.ca ) issued a press release expressing concern over the use of carbon dioxide to kill chickens, noting that the process used to gas 16,000 chickens in March reportedly took several hours and can cause aversive reactions in birds. CCFA recommends the use of different types of gas, and monitoring by the SPCA. {32} The March issue of Animal People contains an article about the ways sick and unwanted chickens are killed in the U.S.: http://tinyurl.com/3xg8e   They include gassing, maceration, and live burial. (The same issue also includes an article on killing methods employed in Asia: http://tinyurl.com/3f8js )  Farm Sanctuary and United Poultry Concerns are targeting the American Veterinary Medical Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture with campaigns against inhumane killing methods {33, 34}.

"Putting the birds down is the easy part. Dealing with the birds after it, that's the big issue," said B.C. Agriculture Minister John Van Dongen. "We don't have enough capacity at the present time to deal with the birds that have been put down," he said. {35} About a half-million of the 19 million birds to be killed have been killed {10}. They are to be incinerated or landfilled {36}, methods that some Canadian citizens are actively protesting {37}. (See also: http://tinyurl.com/2rywb )

In March, U.S. government and industry officials announced a new A.I. testing plan. The $12.5 million voluntary program will expand testing to include commercial chicken flocks raised for meat or eggs, and turkeys. (Testing had primarily been conducted on birds to be exported for breeding use.) The program will focus on the worst strains of the most common, low pathogen A.I. It is to be administered by states, and those that experience an outbreak could receive federal aid. (Currently, the USDA only provides aid if a high pathogen variety of A.I. is found.) {38} Additionally, Delaware and Texas have announced new regulations requiring parties keeping or selling poultry to register with the state {25, 39}.  Delaware is also instituting sanitation and other requirements for live markets. A hearing on the Delaware proposal is scheduled for May 7th. {39}

*Thanks to Ritchie Laymon for bringing this article to our attention.

1.  "Mass Slaughter of B.C. Fowl Ordered," The Globe and Mail, Luma Muhtadie, April 5, 2004.
2.  "Bird Flu: 35 Flocks Infected in British Columbia, Officials Say Tally Could Rise," Meating Place, Ann Bagel, April 14, 2004.
3.  "Chicken Slaughter Raises Consumer Questions," CBC, April 7, 2004. 
4.  "Twenty-Five Farms Infected With Bird Flu in B.C.," The Associated Press, April 13, 2004.
5.  "B.C. Bird Virus Leaps to 13 More Farms; Bigger Cull Considered," The Globe and Mail/Vancouver Sun/Calgary Herald (AnimalNet), April 3, 2004.
6.  "Kill All Birds Right Now, Says Farmers' Association," The Vancouver Sun, Petti Fong, April 5, 2004.
7.  "Poultry Industry Supports New Stringent Measures to Combat Avian Influenza," joint B.C. poultry industry press release (AnimalNet), April 5, 2004.
8.  "Trade Losses From Animal Diseases Projected to Be in Billions," The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, April 15, 2004.
9.  "Owners Battle to Safeguard Exotic Birds From B.C. Cull," The Globe and Mail, Mark Hume, April 10, 2004.
http://tinyurl.com/3ccjr or http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20040410/BIRDS10/National/Idx
10.  "B.C. Couple Cry Foul Over Chicken Cull," The Globe and Mail, Mark Hume, March 26, 2004.
11.  "Kill All Birds Right Now, Says Farmers' Association," The Vancouver Sun/CP/ Calgary Herald/ Edmonton Journal (AnimalNet), April 5, 2004.
12.  "The Missing Precaution in The Avian Flu Outbreak," Vancouver Sun (AnimalNet), March 31, 2004.
13.  "Speller Soars in Crisis Control," The Globe and Mail, Heather Scofield, April 12, 2004. 
14.  "Scientist Probe Mystery Surrounding Avian Flu," CBC, March 26, 2004.
15.  "Avian Flu Outbreak Raises Concerns About Factory Farms," Canadian Press, Dennis Bueckert, April 7, 2004.
16.  "Canada to Cull 19 Mln  Birds in Bird Flu Outbreak," Reuters, Gilbert Le Gras, April 5, 2004.
17.  "Bird Flu Prompts Mass Cull in Canada," New Scientist, Shaoni Bhattacharya, April 6, 2004.
18.  "Big Poultry at Risk Over Avian Flu?" The Toronto Star, Bruce Passmore, April 13, 2004.
http://tinyurl.com/yvdvt or http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?

19.  "Chicken Flu," The Washington Post, March 15, 2004.
20.  "Deadly Strain of Avian Flu in Texas," The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, April 1, 2004.
21.  "Rundown, Remote Chicken Farm Blamed For Texas Bird Flu," Reuters, Jeff Franks, February 23, 2004.
22.  "Bird Flu Outbreak Has Farmers Jittery," The New York Times, James Dao, Feb.16, 2004.
23.  "Bird-Flu Stir Flurry of Precautions in U.S." The Denver Post, Diedtra Henderson, February 15, 2004.
http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36~33~1957166,00.html #
24.  "DPI Works on Live Bird Market Issues." Delmarva Poultry Industry, March 12, 2004. http://www.dpichicken.org/index.cfm?content=news&subcontent=details&id=171
25.  "State Proposes Rule For Poultry: Aimed at Preventing Avian Flu," Newszap, Joe Rogalsky, April 8, 2004.
26.  "Big Chicken Gets The Flu," Bay Weekly, Ryan Grim, March 25-31, 2004. http://www.bayweekly.com/year04/issuexii13/leadxii13.html
Thanks to Paul Shapiro for alerting us to this article.
27.  "Poultry Problems," The Washington Times, Marguerite Higgins, March 14, 2004. http://www.washtimes.com/specialreport/20040313-103736-3984r.htm
28.  "Chicken Lobby: Curb Cockfights," The Hill, Josephine Hearn, April 7, 2004.
Thanks to Michael Markarian for alerting us to this article.
29.  "Oklahoma's Supreme Court Says Anti-Cockfighting Law Is Valid," The Associated Press, Ron Jenkins, March 30, 2004.
30.  "A Flu Threat Harder to Stop Than SARS," The International Herald Tribune, Robert Bonte-Friedheim & Dr. Karl Ekdahl, April 12, 2004.
31.  "Avian Influenza Outbreaks Create Concern About Human Infection Mayo Clinic Researchers Warn," Mayo Clinic, April 13, 2004.
32.  "CO2 Cruel, Says One Animal Rights Group," News 1130, Niki Upton, April 8, 2004.
33.  "USDA and AVMA Urged to Stop Cruel Killing Practices," Farm Sanctuary's E-News & Action Alert, April 1, 2004.
http://www.farmsanctuary.org/campaign/avma_letternew.htm & http://www.farmsanctuary.org/campaign/usda_letter.htm
34.  "The Wood-Chipper Episode and Avian Flu Epidemics: What's the Connection?" Spring/Summer 2004 Poultry Press.
35.  "Emergency Declared over Dead Fowl," Canadian Press, April 11, 2004. http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20040411.wavian0411/BNStory/Front/
36.  "Protesters Block Landfill Entrance as Shipping of Avian Flu Carcasses Begins," Canadian Press, April 13, 2004. http://www.canada.com/vancouver/theprovince/news/story.html?id=c2f6ae03-6f49-41e5-a250-a228759d7776
37.  "B.C. Bird-Disposal Plan under Fire," The Globe and Mail, Mark Hume, April 14, 2004.
http://tinyurl.com/29jzp http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20040414/CACHE14/National/Idx
38.  "New Program Will Expand Testing for Avian Influenza," The Associated Press, (Poultry Times, March 29, 2004).
39.  "Texas' Fowl Registration Set to Fly," Texas Animal Health Commission, April 13, 2004. (PDF file): http://www.tahc.state.tx.us/news/pr/2004/2004Mar_AI_Testing_Plan.pdf
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

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