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Nov 15, 2005

 Bird flu has become a very important issue in Asian and European governments’ agendas. Considerations regarding risks for human health and economic losses have been expressed. However, the plight of all the millions of birds that have been infected and killed for &ldquorecautionary reasons” has received virtually no attention at all.

Bird flu is a condition that can affect all kind of birds, and that can be transmitted (although this is uncommon) to animals of other species, such as mammals like pigs or humans.

It can cause a large array of symptoms on those infected birds. Some of them suffer from haemorrhages, bristly feathers, swellings or cough. Others suffer from a condition which has been dubbed “highly pathogenic bird flu”. This extremely contagious strain develops extraordinarily fast, and almost 100% of the animals who suffer from it die. Birds can die the very same day that the first symptoms appear.

 

 1.  Why it has become an international epidemic

 The reasons for this severe epidemic having been spread so extensively are to be found in bird breeding for their consumption by humans. Most of those birds that are grown up in captivity live in overcrowded conditions, which results in a massive transmission of the sickness. Besides which, their immunity system is usually weakened because of the way in which they are kept and fed. Finally, the poor hygienic conditions in which they live make it much easier for the virus to be transmitted (since the virus is present in the animals’ secretions). In addition, waste from bird farms carry the viruses, and so contaminates the surroundings. This means that many other birds that live there are also infected.

One of the flu strains, called H5N1 is particularly lethal for those kinds of birds that are usually bred for being eaten, especially hens and turkeys (it can kill a whole flock in a matter of hours). But in the case of other animals, such as free ducks or geese or many migratory birds, it takes longer for the flu symptoms to appear. Consequently, these birds can carry them to other places which can be far away from the regions where they got infected. If we add this to the export of live birds for human consumption we can understand what seem to be the key reasons in the bird flue having been carried from Eastern Asia to Central Asia and, now, Eastern Europe.

2. Massive killings

 So far about 140 millions of birds have been killed in Asia. Mass extermination as a &ldquoreventative measure” has been the main response that the pandemic has received. The policy that has been implemented so far is that when sick birds are discovered then all those other birds that may have been in contact with them are killed. Only in Indonesia, more than half a million birds were destroyed during the first half of the present year. China has dealt with the epidemic by combining vaccination policies with mass bird killings. Although millions of chickens have been injected with the vaccine H5N2 (which is considered to be the most adequate one against the H5N1 flu strain) many other birds have been simply killed. In Russia more then 600,000 birds have also been slaughtered since July.

 

 3.  And it keeps spreading...

 Apart from those animals that have been infected in Russia and other neighbouring countries, other cases have been discovered in the Mediterranean as well. Tens of birds have also been found dead due to this infection in Croatia, and those birds living in the areas where they were found were killed to prevent the disease from being spread. Tens of thousands of birds have been also killed in Romania and Turkey already. Other sick animals are starting to appear now in other European countries and all the odds are that the epidemic will continue spreading at a similar pace in the coming months.

 

4.  A lesson for activism

There is an interesting point to consider, in the present circumstances, regarding the way in which campaigns for nonhuman animals are sometimes carried out. This has to do with the not uncommon reference to human interests when defending nonhumans.

It appears that animals kept outdoors are more likely to be infected by bird flu than those that are confined in factory farms. Indoor farming is now starting to be defended in Europe on these grounds. This means there is a backlash to those campaigns that have focused on claiming that the public’s health is threatened by the consumption of factory farmed animals. Such a line of reasoning rests on the idea that consumers will thus be more likely to give up certain products for self-centred reasons.

But the present situation shows that as long as consideration for nonhuman animals is defended by alluding to human interests, when these change (as is now the case) such consideration vanishes. Maybe it will be helpful to give up this kind of argument in favour of a different line of reasoning, centred on the interests of nonhuman animals in not being used (regardless of the way in which they are farmed) and on the rejection of speciesism.


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Posted: Nov 15, 2005 12:55pm

 

 
 
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