Ryeview – February 2007

The pigeon, the pheasant and the hen

John Clark writes…

First published: February 2007 – Gazette & Herald

Out of the window I can see a pigeon, a pheasant and a hen all within twenty yards of each other. The ‘Men from the Ministry’ view these birds completely differently. The pigeon is a wild bird; the pheasant becomes a wild bird when it is released from its intensive rearing while the hen is a domestic bird. The ministry rule book insists that if there is a case of H5N1 (bird flu) then the hen must be kept inside.

Bird Flu has not started in free range birds. It has hit at the heart of poultry agribusiness. One hundred and sixty thousand turkeys, all behind scientifically filtered air, treated water supply and a massive wall of Biosecurity. Every single bird securely fastened away from the wild. So what are the governments’ instructions to farms round the outbreak?

  • Put all domestic birds inside
  • Build a Biosecurity wall

Any self respecting virus is going to be much happier in a confined space filled with hens under stress. The chance to grow and mutate must be better than it would be in an open field in the fresh air.

There will be problems of H5N1 from wild birds but there are even greater problems with agribusiness, extensive livestock rearing and treating food as a commodity. People move from one factory farm to another. Half processed meat (whatever that means) is transported the length of Europe. Feed, eggs and birds are moved in vast quantities and for great distances.

The present rules will produce no long term solutions to these problems. Our domestic flocks will be peering out from behind their Biosecurity walls. Once the H5N1 penetrates a wall another flock will be slaughtered. Would it not be far better if different routes were followed?

All domestic birds were vaccinated against H5N1.

Small/organic/free range flocks were to be part of the natural environment. Some get the disease, some would die from the disease and the majority would become immune.

Combination of the two above, i.e. a choice for individual flock owners.

The above system would mean overall less poultry deaths and a national flock (at least the non-intensive one) with some resistance. The present avian ‘flu’ policy creates another step in the separation between our food, farming and families.

If we try to permanently keep the wild bird population separate from the poultry population the disease will keep on appearing. It will eventually jump into the human population, mutate and then spread in humans. All the present policy does is delay the day when this happens.

Food, farming and families are all part of the same evolutionary soup. Intensive food production in closed buildings is not part of our ecological niche. Agribusiness, must be controlled, reduced and then eliminated. Small scale production is being punished as a result of the failures of factory farming.

How am I to be safer if the hen is fastened up when the pigeon and pheasant have had bird flu but are then immune? What is the advantage to the hen or the human having the hen fastened up? DEFRA still has a lot of explaining to do.

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