Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Avian Influenza

I was gratified to see the New York Times backing up from The Sky Is Falling to The Sky Might Fall, http://tinyurl.com/3yqcy8, "A Pandemic That Wasn't but Might Be." The hysteria over H5N1 has never been justified, but those voices have been louder than voices counseling less dramatic predictions.

The eradication programs going on in India and Thailand are inexcusable, especially in light of the UN Food & Agriculture's conclusion regarding Highly Pathogenic Viruses, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/projects/en/pplpi/docarc/pb_hpaiindustrialrisks.html, that: "Policy makers in both developing and developed countries appear to accept that large-scale industrial farms have higher standards and self-discipline in biosecurity, while smallholders need more rigorous public oversight. But the realities of animal health, economic incentives, and the public interest in disease prevention are far too complex for simple rules of thumb like this to be optimal for society. Only a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to risk management on industrial and backyard farms can sustain a safe and affordable food supply."

Grain's April 2007 report, http://www.grain.org/articles/?id=22, "Despite their 'expert' status, those trying to outlaw backyard poultry are not acting on evidence. The only peer-reviewed study to compare the risks between family farms and industrial operations, based on data from the bird flu outbreaks in Thailand in 2004, found that "backyard flocks are at a significantly lower risk of [bird flu] infection compared to commercial-scale operations of broiler or layer chickens or quail." Nor are these "experts", or the government officials following their advice, responding to the needs of the vast majority of the affected people. If people are defying orders to kill off their flocks, it is not because they do not understand the potential dangers of the disease. It is because their immediate livelihoods are at stake and, compensated or not, they cannot afford to shop at supermarkets."

Policies of eradication are not science-based and inflict misery on the poor without demonstrable eradication of the HP viruses. Management and husbandry changes, combined with vacccination, will provide more protection with less economic pain inflicted on the poor.

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