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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—Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring3175
Site of Triangle of Doom coverup

If poultry were raised only in small outdoor flocks, influenza viruses might be robbed of the opportunity to evolve into highly pathogenic strains, but given the existence of industrial operations, small-scale farmers need to take precautions. A major 2004 USDA report on biosecurity among backyard flocks across the country found the same neglect for even basic biosecurity measures. Only about half of gamefowl operations (which tend to raise cockfighting birds) were recorded as following biosecurity fundamentals such as proper attention to potentially contaminated footwear.3085 Safety measures like disinfecting water supplies3086 or netting the ponds found on the properties of more than one-third of U.S. small poultry operations3087 to discourage wild waterfowl, would add additional security.3088 Some practices in Asia, like the integrated aquaculture feeding of animals’ wastes and the common custom of feeding gutted chicken viscera back to the flocks, should be strongly discouraged.3089

Although there are measures large-scale operations could take to mediate some of the risk in minor ways—enriching environments in swine operations with straw bedding, for example3090 —industrial production carries intrinsic dangers. A textbook on the control of avian viruses laid out the inherent contradiction between intensive confinement and healthy flocks: “The potential for a virus to be transmitted among a group of birds can be reduced by preventing overcrowding, providing maximum separation between birds, providing frequent exposure to sunlight and ensuring a constant supply of fresh air. Sunlight will destroy many viruses that are free in the environment.”3091

To reduce the emergence of viruses like H5N1, humanity must shift toward raising poultry in smaller flocks, under less stressful, less crowded, and more hygienic conditions, with outdoor access, no use of human antivirals, and with an end to the practice of breeding for growth or unnatural egg production at the expense of immunity. This would also be expected to reduce rates of increasingly antibiotic-resistant pathogens such as Salmonella,3092 the number-one food-borne killer in the United States. We need to move away from the industry’s fire-fighting approach to infectious disease to a more proactive preventive health approach that makes birds less susceptible—even resilient—to disease in the first place.3093

In light of viruses like H5N1, more and more experts are questioning the sustainability of intensive poultry production. UN Animal Health Officer Peter Roeder, responsible for viral diseases at the FAO,3094 was asked, “Could a more sustainable livestock production reduce the risk of such diseases?” Roeder answered:
This is certainly so…. [T]he vulnerability to epidemic diseases of intensive, industrialized livestock farming systems is increasingly being demonstrated. This brings into doubt the viability of these systems. A high human population density in close contact with several species of intensively farmed livestock potentially provides a substrate for cross-species transmission, evolution and amplification of many pathogenic agents.3095
“The drive to gain extra production should not be at the expense of dire and abnormal consequences,” says Peter Collignon, director of infectious diseases and microbiology at Australia’s Canberra Hospital. He adds,
There are a whole lot of practices in animal husbandry that means we have got large numbers of animals all close together with practices to give often a very short-term gain that may not be sustainable in the long term, but may well have long-term consequences that are not known, or not thought through at the time.3096
University of Philippines College of Medicine professor Romeo Quijano also judges H5N1 to be a manifestation of the inherent contradictions of industrial poultry production. “The recent outbreak of avian flu and its spread to humans in several countries,” he said, “should be taken as a serious warning signal of the devastating effects of an unsustainable, environment destructive, and profit-oriented food production system.”3097 New Zealand government food safety advisor Meriel Watts declares:
Governments should take heed of this latest food crisis and outlaw the rearing of chickens in overcrowded factory farms. Chickens can be sustainably reared in free-range, organic systems that dramatically improves the health of the birds, and consequently also dramatically reduces the risk to human health…. Cramming tens of thousands of birds into cramped sheds is a human health disaster in waiting.3098
The poultry industry disagrees. The president of the World’s Poultry Science Association from Hong Kong declared that “it does not make sense to get rid of the poultry industry to get rid of the bird flu. That would be an ignorant act.”3099 FAO experts have expressed concern that the strong industrial poultry sector might interfere with bird flu control efforts in general, perhaps even “hijack the agenda.”3100

The industry bristles at the suggestion that intensive confinement causes undue stress. “Confinement rearing has its precedents,” the National Live Stock and Meat Board wrote in its publication, Facts from the Meat Board. “Schools are examples of ‘confinement rearing’ of children which, if handled properly, are effective.”3101 One agribusiness foundation wrote “Most veal calves are kept in individual stalls similar to a baby’s crib.”3102

The industry knows how vulnerable it is to public scrutiny. Industry proponents try to deflect criticism by dismissing critiques as city-slicker ignorance.3103 At the same time, they admit that truly informed consumers are the last thing they need. “One of the best things modern animal agriculture has going for it is that most people…haven’t a clue how animals are raised and processed,” wrote the editor of the Journal of Animal Science in an animal agriculture textbook.
If most urban meat-eaters were to visit an industrial broiler house, to see how the birds are raised, and could see the birds being “harvested” and then being “processed” in a poultry processing plant, some, perhaps many of them, would swear off eating chicken and perhaps all meat. For modern animal agriculture, the less the consumer knows about what’s happening before the meat hits the plate, the better.3104
This industry attitude of concealment extends to bird flu. Industry reaction to the 2002 outbreak of H6N2 in poultry in Southern California is instructive. A study published by the National Institute of Medicine gives the background:
Millions of birds shedding viruses traveling in trucks easily spread the infection to farms along the route. That is when the Turlock region, which is bound by three major roads, became known as the Triangle of Doom: a bird couldn’t enter the region without becoming infected with H6N2. Tens of millions of birds in California became infected with this H6N2 virus during a four-month period beginning in March 2002.3105
The industry covered it up. Corporate producers used their own veterinarians and did not release the diagnoses—not to the state, not to neighboring states, not to the World Organization for Animal Health, and not even to neighboring farms, even though the information might have let them better protect their flocks. According to the 2005 National Institute of Medicine report, The Threat of Pandemic Influenza: Are We Ready?, the emergence of the “Triangle of Doom” was kept quiet “by corporate decision-makers who feared that consumer demand would plummet if the public knew they were buying infected meat and eggs.”3106 As with the SARS outbreak in China the following year, economic interests trumped public health.3107

Public relations concerns extend to questioning research directions. At a 2004 avian influenza symposium, when a medical epidemiologist and pediatrician in the Influenza Branch at the CDC insisted that further studies on H7N3 viruses in the U.S. poultry industry needed to be done, a poultry representative seemed more concerned about the industry’s public appearance. Eric Gonder, a spokesperson for the National Turkey Federation, for the North Carolina Poultry Federation, and for one of the nation’s largest pig producers3108 (all at the same time),3109 responded, “How would you suggest we conduct these studies without getting into a negative perception of agriculture?”3110

Europe is taking the lead in opposition to the trend of intensification in animal agriculture. David Byrne is the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. “Let me say a final word on animal rearing practices,” he said at a Public Health Risks from Emerging Zoonotic Diseases conference in 2004:
In the agricultural sector, greater account needs to be taken of the implications of intensive animal husbandry practices. Public health policy needs to have a much greater role to ensure human health protection. Policies need to encourage a shift away from intensive rearing and to ensure the adequacy of risk management measures at farm and production unit level. These are issues that we also need to pursue at international level.3111
The vice president of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee said in a press release,
Factory farming and global transportation are behind the breeding and spreading of diseases like avian influenza. The EU must act now to prevent further outbreaks of such diseases. Measures must be taken to regionalize production, reduce transport distances, and impose animal welfare standards so that European factory farming is phased out in the coming years.3112
Writes the official French Agency for Food Safety,
The never-ending quest for better productivity and profit, the constantly evolving technologies in animal farming and the ever-increasing exchanges in a market now open to the world, might favor exposure to hazards. New and largely unexpected so-called production or “man-made” diseases will come along after those we already experience.3113
The French Food Safety Agency’s Network for the Prevention and Control of Zoonoses, comprised of 16 European partners and more than 300 scientists, focuses blame in part on “the growing trade in meat, milk and other animal products.”3114 In reaction to the spate of emerging animal diseases, and to the dismay of the industry,3115 the Chancellor of Germany has called for an end to factory farming3116 and “a new politics that stands for consumer protection, improved food safety and natural, environmentally-friendly farming.”3117

In 2001, the World Bank made a surprising reversal of its previous commitment to fund large-scale livestock projects in developing nations. In its new livestock strategy, the Bank acknowledged that as the sector grows, “there is a significant danger that the poor are being crowded out, the environment eroded, and global food safety and security threatened.”3118 This reflects the multiplicity of issues in addition to zoonotic disease pointed out by “factory farming” opponents. Critics have argued that production profitability should not be the sole consideration in animal agriculture,3119 and, in addition to human and animal health3120 and welfare,3121 other factors should be taken into account, such as soil heath,3122 biodiversity,3123 climate change,3124 social justice,3125 equity,3126 good governance,3127 and environmental stewardship.3128

In the United States, the American Public Health Association (APHA) is among those advocating for “radical” (from the Latin radix, for “root”3129 ) change. In 2003, the APHA passed a “Precautionary Moratorium on New Concentrated Animal Feed Operations,” in which it urged all federal, state, and local authorities to impose an immediate moratorium on the building of new factory farms—including industrial turkey, laying hen, broiler chicken, and duck facilities.3130 The response has been underwhelming. The only response on a state level that currently exists is a limited moratorium on pig factories in North Carolina, up for renewal in 2007.3131

The industry claims that intensification is driven by consumer demand for cheap meat.3132 In response to the lead 2005 New Yorker story on the threat of bird flu, staff writer Michael Specter was asked if, based on his research, we would “have to rethink such things as large-scale poultry farming?” He replied:
Well, I can’t imagine a better prescription for killing large numbers of animals with a single disease than packing tens of thousands of them into factory farms where they are lucky if they have 15 inches of personal space. Still, the economic incentives toward factory production of food are huge—we want cheap meat. So it’s going to be very difficult to change.3133
According to one economic analysis, transitioning to slower-growing breeds of broiler chickens with improved immunity might be expected to cost consumers no more than a dollar or two a year.3134 The proportion of household income Americans spend on food is low compared to other countries, though this may be more a reflection of American wealth than the actual price of U.S. groceries.3135 And the true cost may not be reflected on the label. According to a team of food policy experts, our current industrial model of animal agriculture “may deliver cheap food (defined as food accounting for a reduced proportion of household expenditure) but it has an unfortunate tendency to disguise or add to the environmental [and public] health bill.”3136 Agricultural economists have suggested “true cost” pricing and labeling schemes to educate consumers about their choices in the marketplace.3137

Lonnie King is the dean of Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and president of the American Veterinary Epidemiology Society. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the former administrator of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.3138 King was instrumental in creating an advisory panel within the World Organization for Animal Health to address emerging zoonoses.3139 His talk at the 2004 meeting of the USDA National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education and Economics Advisory Board was titled, “Emerging Threats and Opportunities in Animal Agriculture.”3140

King set out to explain the root causes behind the Third Age of human disease, which “began about 1975 with the emergence or reemergence of zoonotic diseases.” He described the factors leading to the creation of this “microbial perfect storm” as “anthropogenic,” meaning human-caused. “As climate changes and ecosystems are destroyed, pathogens will become ubiquitous, constantly mixing and mutating to find new animal hosts and new avenues of infection.”3141

King told the USDA Advisory Board that animal agriculture has reached a “strategic inflection point” where the “old rules and lessons no longer apply.” He characterized this paradigm shift as moving from agriculture as “a trusted provider” to agriculture as “a part of the problem.” King agreed with the National Research Council and Government Accountability Office reports that advised the USDA to shift its focus away from increased production and toward other priorities, such as environmental sustainability.3142

Veterinary scientists at the University of Georgia published a 2004 review in the journal Clinics of Laboratory Medicine in which they wrote, “Watching the steady stream of new and emerging diseases, one is reminded of the carnival game ‘Whack-a-mole.’” Instead of just responding to each new crisis as it arises, they proposed a more proactive strategy of addressing the underlying causes of disease emergence.3143 Council on Foreign Relations’ senior fellow for Global Health Garrett concluded, “Ultimately, humanity will have to change its perspective on its place in Earth’s ecology if the species hopes to stave off or survive the next plague.”3144