This email I received started out kindly enough. A person whose name I recognized, although I couldn’t quite pinpoint why, wrote “I just finished reading your article (Avian flu now confirmed in all North American flyways), and it's quite informative. Thank you for sharing this information.”
But then the third sentence came, offering a comment from the group Compassion in World Farming, which seeks to end all commercial-scale animal agriculture, or as it likes to call it “factory farming.”
Then the statement, from Ben Williamson, U.S. executive director of the organization, started to read: “Intensive poultry farms provide the optimum conditions for the spread of bird flu. …”
OK. That’s enough of that to include in this blog post. But the long and short of it is that Williamson is essentially saying that without commercial scale poultry production, the incidence of avian influenza infections and cullings would not be so high.
Williamson’s statement reminded me of a humorous line from the old television show, “Married … with Children.” Peg Bundy, the, uhh, matriarch of the Bundy family was a lazy person and part of that laziness resulted in her frequently not having any food cooked or even in the house. Her daughter, Kelly, frustrated with the situation, said something to the effect of: “I know you say food can only lead to food poisoning, but we’re willing to take that chance.”
Of course if there are fewer chickens and turkeys, there will be fewer instances avian influenza in chickens and turkeys.
But Williamson’s comments ignore the fact that commercial poultry farms are practicing strong biosecurity measures so the farm owners and workers aren’t spreading avian influenza, and that the virus is being spread by wild migratory birds.
Smaller flocks being raised in what the group considers more welfare-friendly conditions will still run the risk of being susceptible to highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) being spread by a migrating duck.
And to end poultry production altogether, which is what some animal rights groups want, is no solution at all.
We all want to see HPAI outbreaks come to an end, or at the very least, be minimized. But if Compassion in World Farming wants to help come up with a means to do that, its suggestions will need to display a more lucid and intelligent thought process. The comment submitted to me from that group, in my opinion, falls short in that capacity.
View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.