Backyard or free-range poultry are not fuelling the current wave of bird flu outbreaks stalking large parts of the world. The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu is essentially a problem of industrial poultry practices. Its epicentre is the factory farms of China and Southeast Asia and — while wild birds can carry the disease, at least for short distances — its main vector is the highly self-regulated transnational poultry industry, which sends the products and waste of its farms around the world through a multitude of channels. Yet small poultry farmers and the poultry biodiversity and local food security that they sustain are suffering badly from the fall-out. To make matters worse, governments and international agencies, following mistaken assumptions about how the disease spreads and amplifies, are pursuing measures to force poultry indoors and further industrialise the poultry sector. In practice, this means the end of the small-scale poultry farming that provides food and livelihoods to hundreds of millions of families across the world.
Thus begins a new report by GRAIN, an international non-governmental organization which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on people’s control over genetic resources and local knowledge.
The report presents a fresh perspective on the bird flu crisis, challenging current assumptions, such as the blaming of wild birds for the spread of the disease, and putting the focus back on the transnational poultry industry.
“Everyone is focused on migratory birds and backyard chickens as the problem,” says Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN. “But they are not effective vectors of highly pathogenic bird flu. The virus kills them, but is unlikely to be spread by them.”
“The evidence we see over and over again, from the Netherlands in 2003 to Japan in 2004 to Egypt in 2006, is that lethal bird flu breaks out in large scale industrial chicken farms and then spreads.
“Farmers are losing their livelihoods, native chickens are being wiped out and some experts say that we’re on the verge of a human pandemic that could kill millions of people. When will governments realize that to protect poultry and people from bird flu, we need to protect them from the global poultry industry?”
To read the full report:
Photo: the avian flu virus