Table of Contents:



I. Storm Gathering

1. 1918

2. Master of Metamorphosis

3. H5N1

4. Playing Chicken

5. Worse Than 1918?

6. When, Not If

II. When Animal Viruses Attack

1. The Third Age

2. Man Made

3. Livestock Revolution

4. Tracing the Flight Path

5. One Flu Over the Chicken's Nest

6. Coming Home to Roost

7. Guarding the Henhouse

III. Pandemic Preparedness

1. Cooping Up Bird Flu

2. Race Against Time

3. Tamiflu

IV. Surviving the Pandemic

1. Don't Wing It

2. Our Health in Our Hands

3. Be Prepared

V. Preventing Future Pandemics

1. Tinderbox

2. Reining in the Pale Horse


References 1-3,199

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Heralded by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture’s famous injunction at the time to “get big or get out,”2971 industrial poultry production began in the 1950s,2972 the same decade that fowl plague was discovered to be avian influenza.2973 As the industry intensified, so did the outbreaks.2974 There was one outbreak of highly pathogenic bird flu in the 1950s, two in the 1960s, three in the 1970s, three in the 1980s, jumping to nine in the 1990s, and then eight between 2001 and 2004, before H5N1 started its global march.2975,2976 Now, with the spread of H5N1, the number of outbreaks in the first few years of the 21st century have already exceeded the total number of outbreaks recorded for the entire 20th century. One leading Italian flu scientist told Science, “We’ve gone from a few snowflakes to an avalanche.”2977

Highly pathogenic bird flu is hard to miss, as it tends to wipe out entire flocks. In the past 50 years, it has gone from an exceedingly rare disease in poultry to one that now crops up every year.2982 This dramatic increase in regularity2983 is matched by an upsurge in the scale of bird flu outbreaks. The majority of the 20th-century outbreaks were limited in their geographic spread—some confined to a single farm or flock.2984 In all, approximately 20 million birds were affected in the latter half of the century, compared to some 200 million birds in the last few years alone.2985 In addition to H5N1 in Asia, there was the highly pathogenic outbreak in the Netherlands in 2003 leading to the deaths of 30 million birds,2986 and the outbreak in Canada in 2004 that effectively killed 19 million.2987 The director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research at Emory University and other experts2988,2989 ,2990,2991 ,2992 blame the intensification of the disease on the intensification of the industry. “We used to have chickens that ran around on a small farm,” the director said. “There didn’t use to be this dense crowding of animals.”2993

According to the latest global statistics, the three most common animals slaughtered in the world are pigs, ducks, and chickens—not a good combination from a pandemic perspective. In 2003, more than 1 billion pigs, 2 billion ducks, and 45 billion chickens were slaughtered. Although the preceding five years saw a decline in the number of rodents slaughtered for their flesh (down to 65 million), the single greatest increase in slaughter was ducks, up 30%, along with about 20% increases for the numbers of chickens and geese killed for food. China led the world in land-based animal slaughter, exceeding ten billion animals a year.2994

When the last pandemic virus arose in China in 1968, there were 5 million pigs in the country and 12 million birds raised as poultry. Now there are 500 million pigs and more than 12 billion birds, a 100,000% increase.2995 Combined with more than a billion people, “Darwin could not have created a more efficient re-assortment laboratory if he tried,” remarked Osterholm.2996 Similar changes have happened throughout southeast Asia,2997 the hub of the global Livestock Revolution.2998

In the past ten years Chinese meat production has grown by more than 50%.2999 To fill the growing demand for meat, Chinese poultry facilities raise up to 5 million chickens at a time,3000 and industrial pig units confine as many as 250,000 pigs in six-story concrete buildings.3001 “As soon as you have that many animals in one spot,” said the UN director of Animal Production and Health, “you are likely to get into trouble with disease.”3002

A study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization reported five different strains of influenza circulating in chickens in Hong Kong and China as far back as 1982.3003 Why did it take until 1997 for bird flu to go on the rampage? A professor of virology at University College in London answers, “We’ve had nothing like this gigantic chicken breeding in the world before.”3004

Chicken has become the fastest-growing meat sector in the world.3005 Between 1990 and 1997, the developing world saw an 85% increase in the millions of tons of poultry produced.3006 In Asia, raising chickens stopped being just a backyard activity. Since its start in the late 1980s, poultry production has more than tripled in Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia, and doubled in China.3007 By 1997, China had more than 60,000 broiler chicken facilities, each confining more than 10,000 birds. A dozen egg farms in Thailand produce about two-thirds of the country’s egg market by caging more than a million hens each.3008 “One of the things we’re very worried about in today’s situation versus 1918,” Osterholm said, speaking on a Council on Foreign Relations panel, “is that, in fact, we have so many new hosts available, that virus can transmit between those billions and billions of chickens in one year more so today than it used to be able to do in a whole century.”3009

The head of the Asian office of the World Health Organization blames the emergence of viruses like H5N1 in part on our “[o]ver-consumption of animal products.”3010 As recently as ten years ago, a Chinese family would slaughter a chicken only on special occasions. Now they can afford a chicken every week and soon may be able to afford to eat chicken every day. “This means we’re hastening the probability of the emergence of a truly lethal flu strain,” said Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Garrett in an interview.3011

Clearly, the majority of the world’s pork and poultry is now produced on large-scale industrial animal factories,3012 with further intensification predicted for the foreseeable future.3013 In China, per-capita meat consumption is expected to increase an additional 45% by 20203014 with the Chinese population rising continuously until 2030.3015 Already by the turn of the century, China’s fast-food industry had a $24-billion turnover with the market sector growing 20% annually. McDonald’s has 400 restaurants in China; Kentucky Fried Chicken has 681.3016

H5N1 has further accelerated the intensification of the industry, recently forcing into bankruptcy as many as 90% of smaller Asian poultry producers, who lacked the reserve to stomach a loss of markets for months at a time.3017 Giant U.S. chicken corporations like Tyson and Perdue can afford expensive control measures and have rapidly expanded into China.3018 Cargill, a U.S.-based transnational corporation with annual sales exceeding $60 billion,3019 eradicated, at its own expense, all bird species, including wild ducks, in and around the poultry facilities it owned or contracted across 22 Chinese provinces.3020 With only the larger corporate producers left standing, the greater number of birds in intensive confinement may provide fertile fodder for viruses like H5N1 to gain greater virulence. “We are offering this virus every opportunity,” Osterholm said. “Every day is an evolutionary experiment going on in Asia, every minute, every second.”3021