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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Chickens now and then

America invented industrial poultry production, yet a century ago in the United States, chickens were more prized as showpieces than dinner table centerpieces. Chickens, like many fancy pigeon breeds of today, were bred more for exhibition than consumption. Only around 1910 did raising these birds for eggs supersede raising them for show.1632 When Herbert Hoover promised “a chicken in every pot” in 1928, America’s entire annual per-capita consumption could fit in a pot—Americans were eating an average of only a half-pound of chicken a year.1633 By 1945, the figure stood at five pounds per year. The sea change happened after World War II.1634 Current chicken consumption is around 90 pounds a year,1635 over half a bird a week.1636 Chicken used to be more expensive than steak or lobster in the United States; poultry may now be cheaper than the potatoes with which it’s served.1637

In past-CEO Don Tyson’s words, corporations “control the center of the plate for the American people”1638 by turning a holiday or Sunday dinner into everyday fare through “least cost production,”1639 an intense pressure to keep live production costs as low as possible.1640 The first hurdle was to keep birds captive indoors in order to produce year-round.1641 Without enough exercise and natural sunlight exposure, though, flocks raised in warehouses suffered from rickets and other developmental disorders. The discovery of the “sunshine” vitamin D in 19221642 finally allowed for total confinement,1643 enabling producers to use near-continuous artificial light to increase feed-to-flesh conversion.1644 As in the case of antibiotic growth promotants, such technological fixes have allowed the poultry industry to profit in the short term by undermining natural safeguards, but at what long-term cost?

Intensive confinement, while “more economical,” according to USDA researchers, has the “unfortunate consequence that disease outbreaks occur more frequently and with greater severity.”1645 Many of the early indoor broiler operations of the 1920s and ’30s were wiped out by contagious disease fostered by the crowded conditions,1646 making it impossible to maintain large flocks economically.1647 Overcrowding took over the egg industry, too. In 1945, the typical henhouse held 500 egg-laying birds; today there are avian megalopolises, caging 100,000 or more hens in a single shed on a single egg farm.1648 This was made possible in part by the antibiotic revolution. As one farmer admitted, “The more intensive farming gets, the more props you need. You crowd the animals to save every cent you can on space; then you have to give them more antibiotics to keep ’em healthy.”1649

The history of the poultry industry is a history of disease. As soon as one epidemic was subdued, another soon seemed to emerge.1650 Bacterial diseases like fowl typhoid and tuberculosis gradually gave way over the century to viral scourges.1651 In the 1960s, a hypervirulent form of Marek’s disease was discovered, a destructive cancer virus that led to the condemnation of as many as one-fifth of U.S. broiler chicken flocks.1652 In the 1970s, exotic Newcastle disease, a viral invasion of the nervous system, caused the deaths of 12 million chickens.1653 In the 1980s, H5N2 struck Pennsylvania and destroyed 17 million, our worst bird flu outbreak in the United States to date.1654 In the 1990s, parasitic diseases like blackhead disease—once considered under control—re-emerged,1655 and some bacteria reincarnated as antibiotic-resistant superbugs.1656 In a review of the unrelenting global outbreaks of epidemic disease, a North Carolina veterinary poultry specialist wrote in World Poultry, “The intensification of the poultry industry seems to be paying its toll.”1657

GRAIN, a respected agricultural research organization, points out a parallel between Newcastle disease and avian influenza in its briefing Fowl Play: The Poultry Industry’s Central Role in the Bird Flu Crisis.1658 Newcastle is another avian virus that may mutate into a highly pathogenic form if it finds its way into an intensive confinement environment. The GRAIN report points to the example of a sudden Australian outbreak of Newcastle in 1998 that led to the destruction of 100,000 chickens. Though the virus was originally assumed to have been brought into the country from overseas, virologists at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory concluded that a benign local strain had mutated into a highly virulent form.1659 Vaccinations were mandated for all chickens on any farm with more than 1,000 birds. The government explained why small farms and backyard flocks were exempt: “All the available evidence indicates that, for such a mutation to occur, it needs a large number of birds in a small area to ‘generate’ the virus mutation process. In simple terms, a small number of birds cannot generate enough virus for the mutation process to occur.”1660

Even with total control over the animals’ lives and movements, and an arsenal of vaccines, antimicrobials, and deworming agents, intensive food animal industries remain plagued with disease epidemics.1661 In intensive pig production, certain internal parasites have been eliminated, but respiratory diseases like influenza have intensified.1662 In the poultry industry, according to an avian virology textbook, “confined, indoor, high-density” facilities “create an ideal environment for the transmission of viruses, particularly those that are shed from the respiratory or gastrointestinal tract.”1663