chickenIt is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Someone should tell the agriculture industry, especially in Canada, which appears incapable of learning anything.

It has only been five years since scientists confirmed the link between BSE (‘Mad Cow’ disease) and human vCJD. As a consequence, after 40 Britons had died of vCJD, a quarter million British cows were slaughtered and burned, borders were closed to meat products, anyone coming from Britain was ‘disinfected’, and blood donors were screened for vCJD.

No one really knew what they were doing, so they just tried everything. BSE is caused by a prion, which isn’t even ‘alive’, rather than by a bacteria or a virus, so it doesn’t respond to normal antibiotics and other chemical poisons. To this day, no one knows how BSE spreads, or how dangerous it is. The related sheep disease, called scapie, has been around for centuries, and is endemic to sheep everywhere, but has not been known to jump to other species, including humans, so other than not feeding ground-up sheep parts to cattle anymore, we have chosen to do nothing about that.

The isolation approach to BSE hasn’t worked. Two years after the British outbreak, homegrown cases of BSE were found in France and Germany. Earlier this year, homegrown cases were found in Canada, and then in the US, allegedly from a Canadian cow but unrelated to the other Canadian case. Borders were closed again, with demands for testing of all animals, not just sick ones, before they will be reopened. In every case, the impact on farmers and on the markets has been devastating.

Other than implementing what was mandated by government inspectors, what has the global beef industry done of its own volition to adapt and respond to this devastation? Absolutely nothing. This week American speculators are up in Canada betting that the expected reopening of the US border to Canadian cattle this summer will mean a surge in Canadian cattle prices. But there have been no changes in practices, no pooling of funds to research the causes and cures for BSE.

Oh well, Canadians said after it was all over, there’s always chicken. There certainly is. Avian flu is endemic in many migrating birds and does sometimes infect domestic poultry, but, like BSE, there was until recently no compelling evidence that the disease can jump the species barrier to humans. Then in May 1997, six people in Hong Kong died from one avian flu variant called H5N1. Two years later there were two more deaths, this time from variant H9N2. All these cases were blamed on poor sanitation causing infection directly from bird feces.

Then in April of last year, one man in Holland died and 80 others became ill when the H7N7 variant jumped the species barrier. Over the next ten months, there were outbreaks in Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Pakistan and China. There were only about 30 human deaths in all, but because of the scale of the outbreaks and fear of human-to-human spread, borders were closed and hundreds of millions of chickens, ducks and other poultry were slaughtered.

The WHO fuelled the panic, warning in January that there was “the possibility” that avian flu could quickly mutate into a highly infectious and very deadly human flu, and recommending the stockpiling of antiviral drugs “in case of a pandemic”. They also said that human-to-human spread of the disease in a few recent deaths in Asia “could not be ruled out”.

In February, Delaware destroyed 12,000 chickens after an outbreak of a mild form of avian flu, then another 72,000 after a separate outbreak. The import of US chickens was banned by several Asian and European countries. Subsequent outbreaks occurred in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas, and in British Columbia. By the end of March, 360,000 BC chickens had been slaughtered. Yesterday, the government ordered the slaughter of 20 million more, virtually every chicken in BC.

Why is the disease spreading so rapidly? Because highly inbred farmed animals, which mostly live in crowded, unsanitary conditions, are fed a constant diet of massive antibiotic and antiviral chemical poisons to try to fend off epidemics, and so the diseases, which are among nature’s most resilient and quickly mutating species, develop an immunity to these chemicals and strike instead with new variants. Science can’t develop new chemicals as quickly as nature can adapt to circumvent them. Epidemics are nature’s way of dealing with overcrowding, and, in the battle between man and nature, nature always bats last.

When you eat meat, you’re getting a big dose of these chemical poisons as well, so human diseases are quickly building up a similar immunity to antibiotics, which is resulting in new, virulent, resistant diseases in people, not to mention a whole raft of new autoimmune deficiency problems in people whose natural immune systems are getting more and more out of whack.

So what are the BC poultry farmers going to do? They’re going to spray all their farms with massive doses of chemical poisons, wait six months, and start up all over again. They plan no changes whatsoever to their operations.

Of course, like the cattle farmers, they want massive subsidies and compensation from the Canadian taxpayers, to finance the repeat of this folly.

I know a lot of my readers think I underestimate human ingenuity, adaptability and innovation, and therefore feel my predictions of coming ecological catastrophes are unduly pessimistic.

Well, I rest my case.

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  1. tonio says:

    Thanks for the heads up. I was totally unaware of the situation in BC.I think it may well be time to reconsider the whole vegetarian thing. It’s just too much *trouble* at the moment to think about animal food sources.

  2. Dermot Casey says:

    Davenever underestimate human ingenuity or human stupidity. I guess if the industry won’t make the changes its up to the individuals. Living next door to the UK and living in a country with its own BSE Crisis (Ireland) its hard to fathom how others don’t learn from the mistakes made here. And again the US is trying to force Europe import Beef grown with growth hormones which are illegal in Europe and common in the US. And there still isn’t proper labelling of Genetic Modified Organisms….Is anything safe to eat any more?Dermot

  3. Rob Paterson says:

    Right DaveOur whole food safety approach is wrong – it is how animals are raised and killed that is the risk – high concentration = danger.It is hard to break the frame around this factGood food is not cheap

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Dermot: I understand that 15% of people in the UK are now vegetarians. Over here it’s more like 2%, which continues to astonish me after all that’s happened. We’re so used to the government telling us what’s good for us that we won’t stop eating the crap until it becomes illegal, becomes much more expensive, or a bunch of people die.

  5. Yule Heibel says:

    Yup, it’s really bad — 19-20 million chickens, massive disinfection of the “farms,” and yet they (the industry) know that all it could take to start the whole cycle over again is some infected poop from an overflying goose or duck. Unlike the factory-farmed livestock, those wild birds have some immunities left, but I can just see the response now: instead of changing the factory farming system and its monoculture, we’ll probably try to figure out a way to “contain” the wild species, too. Yeah, I know! How about we start by exterminating them and condemning them to extinction?? Monomania, the ruling pathology of our winning system….

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