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Reality takes wing over bird flu February 20, 2006 5:01 AM

A series of thought-provoking environmental opinion pieces
Story from BBC NEWS:

fill story:

Leon Bennun

*Vested interests mean wild birds are being blamed for the spread of
avian flu, argues Dr Leon Bennun in this week's Green Room, whereas
responsibility really lies with modern farming. Demands for culling and
the destruction of nesting sites threaten, he says, to bring rare
species to extinction, but will do nothing to halt the disease.

    *The role of migratory wild birds in the transmission of the disease
    has been exaggerated and sensationalised

During the second week in February, Western Europe reported its first
cases of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of avian flu in wild birds.

Across Italy, Greece and Slovenia, more than 25 mute swans died; by
Valentine's Day, the virus had also been found in wild swans in Austria
and Germany.

Conservationists, poultry keepers and health officials are bracing
themselves for more widespread outbreaks.

Fuelled in part by alarmist press reports and by the attempts of
government agencies to draw blame away from farming, there are now calls
for drastic measures against wild bird populations.

I believe these measures would put some species at risk of extinction,
without having any effect on the spread of avian flu.
Catching the culprits*

The likelihood is that the swans now dying in Western Europe had
recently arrived from the Black Sea, driven south and west by freezing
conditions that prevented them feeding.

They may have caught the disease from other wild birds; but this is
unlikely given the tens of thousands of waterfowl that have tested
negative for H5N1 over the last decade.

Much more likely is that before starting out, they picked up the virus
from farms, either from infected poultry or their faeces. Mute swans
often graze agricultural fields, and are likely to have come into
contact with poultry manure spread as a fertiliser.

If wild birds had been spreading the disease across continents there
would have been trails of outbreaks following migration routes; but this
hasn't happened.

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