Monday, May 01, 2006

More Avian Influenza info

Thought you would be interested in this article from The Nation.
Avian Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest
by Nicholas von Hoffman
Is it Mother Nature or Father Human Greed whom we have to blame for
avian flu?
A few days ago the Union of Concerned Scientists sent out an e-mail saying, "A
study by the international non-governmental organization GRAIN suggests
that avian influenza is spread primarily by the global poultry trade,
not migratory birds or free-range poultry operations as has been
suggested, and that confined factory farm production contributed to its
mutation into its current deadly form. The organization tracked the
movements of the disease over time and found that they were correlated,
not with migratory bird routes or the locations of free-range farms,
but with integrated trade networks involving poultry, eggs, meat,
feathers, manure and animal feed. US Department of Agriculture
Secretary Mike Johanns warned that bird flu will almost certainly come
to the United States."
An article on the website of the biodiversity agency Grain titled "Fowl Play: The Poultry
Industry's Central Role in the Bird Flu Crisis" is yet one more
reminder that things are not always as they tell us they are. Maybe the
migrating swallows and arctic terns are not carrying the H5N1 flu virus
after all, and why do we have to wait for the Union of Concerned
Scientists to hip us to the knowledge that the disease rarely occurs in
small family flocks but rather mostly in farm factories where chickens
are raised by the tens of thousands inside, under unsanitary and
debilitating conditions that make them soft prey for the virus. Overly
large, unregulated agribusiness is at it again.
All of this is but a new version of an old truth: There is no money, or
not enough money, in health. From a business point of view prevention
of disease or disability is a chump's game, whether you are talking
about Canadian geese, a Rhode Island red hen or a person. The big bucks
are in sickness. You can make money getting people sick by selling them
bad food and make more money selling them remedies for what you did to
So the same Grain article also brings the startling news that
"one of the standard ingredients in industrial chicken feed, and most
industrial animal feed, is 'poultry litter.' This is a euphemism for
whatever is found on the floor of the factory farms: fecal matter,
feathers, bedding, etc. Chicken meat, under the label 'animal byproduct
meal,' also goes into industrial chicken feed. The WHO (World Health
Organization) says that bird flu can survive in bird feces for up to 35
days and, in a recent update to its bird flu fact sheet, it mentions
feed as a possible medium for the spread of bird flu between farms.
Russian authorities pointed to feed as one of the main suspected
sources of an H5N1 outbreak at a large-scale factory farm in Kurgan
province, where 460,000 birds were killed. Yet globally, nothing is
being done to tighten regulations or monitoring of the feed industry.
Instead it often seems that the industry, not governments, is calling
the shots."
Thus the don't-fence-me-in, don't-regulate-me cowboys of the food
business may kill us by breeding sick chickens and may kill the
chickens by feeding them contaminated food--which, of course, they sell.
Yippeee-ay-yea, bring on the pandemic! But there is yet another way of
wringing legitimate profits out of this disease, which, if the most
pessimistic predictions turn out to be true, may cause one out of five
of us to turn up our toes and head for the great chicken factory in the
That other way is selling us expensive medicine that does not work in
case we come down with avian flu. The medicine in question is Tamiflu, which may cure Tamiflu but doesn't cure avian flu. Nevertheless, they can't make the stuff fast
enough. They are back-ordered into the next century.
If that were not fun enough, Grain has also discovered that Donald Rumsfeld is a major stockholder in Gilead Sciences, which licenses Tamiflu.
Whether or not Tamiflu is of the slightest use to avian flu sufferers,
it is of great profitability to the secretary of defense, since Gilead
is expected to make $118 million from Tamiflu sales this year. Somebody
has laid a big, fat egg here.
This article can be found on the web at:
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