Friday, April 24, 2015

Bad, Bad Bird Flu

Avian influenza ("AI") has been striking flocks across North America.  Why is this happening?  Where is the source of risks that cause these outbreaks?

On Better Farming website, some anonymous postings have accused small flock and backyard chickens for spreading the avian influenza infection, pointing to "many" small flocks with  AI.

The USDA has a web page listing the site of the recent AI outbreaks.   Downloading the listing and doing some statistical analysis of the data, we get the following information.

Table 1:   Bird Flu statistics for USA
There are two major categories for bird flu infections; commercial and backyard. For some, the data on the extent of the infections has not yet been received.  These data are for the ones for which the impact is already known as of 2015/04/23.

A total of 71 flocks have been infected; 60 commercial flocks, and 11 backyard flocks.  That means that 84.5% of all the US infections are at commercial establishments.

Of course, the commercial flocks are huge CAFO's (Concentrated Animal Feed Operations), with many thousands of birds.  Of all the birds infected, 99.9% of them are commercial chicken factory birds.

Bird Flu Risk:  CAFO of Small Flockers?

In the 2012 US agricultural census, there were 198,272 commercial egg laying poultry farms, and 32,935 commercial  broiler farms, for a total of 231,207 commercial poultry farms in USA.  While that is a huge number of commercial farms, the number of flocks at small flock farms and backyard chickens is orders of magnitude larger.  Why then, are 85% of the disease outbreaks coming from commercial operations that are less than 10% of the total number of US flocks?

I suggest it's because the CAFO chicken factories are a hotbed of disease and unhealthy birds; a powder keg waiting for a wayward & negligent bird flu match to be tossed in.  CAFO's are a Bird Flu powder keg because CAFO's are based on biologically improper techniques and processes.  When you have chicken factory coop congestion, and a large number of birds than mill around amongst all others, any infection will quickly spread to most other birds.  The more birds infected, the greater the risk of infecting the remaining birds.  The infection spreads like wildfire in a CAFO chicken factory.

It has been shown that Bird Flu can be transmitted by air through aerosols and dust.  That fact applies to all the birds inside the CAFO factory barn, as well as the farm's other CAFO factory barns that are right beside the infected barn.  It also means other CAFO factory farms that are downwind of the infected farm.

Once infected, a CAFO often spreads the infection to neighbouring CAFO's, in spite of all their pontification, boasting, and false bravado about their super duper biohazard isolation procedures and quarantines.  Their questionable quarantines are like a leaky sieve; the infection easily passes through to the next CAFO victim, time & again.

Small Flockers are generally based on better methods, so the get infected at a significantly lower incidence rate.  If a small flock farm happens to get infected in spite of protection from better techniques, the infection tends to stay isolated, rather than becoming the well or vector from which the disease is spread to other flocks.

WorldWatch Institute reports
Sustainable farming advocates insist that backyard chickens are less of a concern than factory-farmed poultry, which the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production has said poses serious risks of transmitting animal-borne diseases to human populations, especially due to the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance.

"When it comes to bird flu, diverse small-scale poultry farming is the solution, not the problem," the international sustainable agriculture organization GRAIN concluded in a 2006 report.
Chicken Farmers of Ontario ("CFO") also reported that Ontario's small flock poultry farmers generally respected bio-security precautions and protocols.  See Blog posting "Are Small Flockers competent to care for live birds?" and CFO's poster which absolves Small Flockers from being the scapegoat for biosecurity risks.  It is interesting that CFO has subsequently removed that poster from their website.  I wonder why?

Alerting Small Flockers to Bird Flu Risks

As of Feb. 23, 2015 CFO declares it will communicate biosecurity risks & events to Small Flockers when there is a biosecurity alert or disease outbreak.  This is a major sea change for CFO, from their previous policy of dichotomy (or schizophrenic) polarization of ignoring Small Flockers, or harassing them.  However, here we are in an outbreak, and we have a communication blackout from CFO to Small Flockers.

It is misguided for me to judge others by my personal beliefs and standards.  However, I suggest it is reasonable to judge CFO by CFO's own standards and principles.

The only thing that CFO, Hatcheries, and the Egg Board has done is a simple, token effort of posting alerts on their Small Flock website, leaving it to Small Flockers to check back there on a daily basis to discover if there are any alerts.

Is it reasonable to expect 15,000 small flock farmers in Ontario to check that website on a daily basis?

CFO has the contact info for all Small Flockers in their CFO database.  CFO sends email alerts to their 1,400 millionaire members on a regular basis.  Is it reasonable for CFO to push a button to send an email alert to each & every Small Flocker, alerting them of incidents, recommendations, and changing risks?

On that basis, CFO gets an F- grade.

However, Ecological Farmers of Ontario ("EFAO") sent a Bird Flu alert email out to all Small Flockers listed on their database.

Active alert communications by EFAO are far superior than the passive, limp communication efforts by CFO.

Therefore, SFPFC sends out two communiques:
  • A big Thank-you ! for the enlightened concern and voluntary, helpful effort of EFAO.
  • An insulting raspberry to the semi-silence of CFO, when they should be communicating and alerting Small Flockers on an active basis.

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