Thursday, March 31, 2005

The War On Birds

Hedwig at Living the Scientific Life has written an extremely important post on the central role of factory farming in the H5N1 crisis:

[W}ild birds have been vilified for a problem that primarily stems from human-based activities. In fact, the widely sanctioned practice of harassing and killing wild birds only makes the problem worse by distracting public attention and energy from the real problem, poultry farming methods....

It is short sighted, ineffective and potentially dangerous to exterminate wild, migratory and exotic pet birds when the real problem can be found in how people raise and market domestic poultry. The way to deal with this problem and to prevent a pandemic is by educating the populace about safe poultry husbandry, slaughter and meat-handling practices and also by investing money, materials and personnel into improving poultry farming methods in the region.
I couldn't agree more. Factory farms are a ghastly embodiment of the worst - and most cherished - falsehoods of our economic, political, and ethical thinking. They're bad neighbors, brutal employers, incorrigible polluters, false advertisers, and careless incubators for diseases old and new. And of course, the "low" price of meat from these farms is an utter delusion. The actual cost of factory farming includes astronomical external costs; if we factored the total social cost of factory farming into the price of meat - instead of passing it on surreptitiously to citizens - a hamburger from McDonald's would be a luxury item.

It's really shameful that governments would persecute wild birds, instead of addressing the stupidity and stubbornness of this short-sighted, dangerous industry.


GrrlScientist said...

Thanks for reading my article! Please let me take this opportunity to clarify one point. In my story, I say that approximately 90 percent of domestic Asian poultry are free ranging but factory farming methods are increasing in the region. I anticipate that factory farming growth will be dramatic in the upcoming decade because of the massive poultry killing campaigns .. which, although necessary, are plunging the populace into a serious food (protein) crisis because they cannot afford to replace their lost birds. So they will be forced to turn to factory farmed chickens and ducks to survive unless there is international intervention (but more about this topic is coming in another piece I am writing).

But don't forget that free-ranging poultry are not a panacea either, and in fact, this is probably how "bird flu" entered the captive population in the first place.

Additionally, even though I did not mention this in my piece, the evidence suggests that the spread of bird flu throughout the region is more likely due to the movements of infected birds used in cock fighting than to the movements of wild and migratory birds.

Phila said...

Thanks! I realized after posting this that I was being unclear. I was thinking mainly of Hong Kong and surrounding areas, and also of the people who are opportunistically arguing that more factory farming in Southeast Asia would be better from a public-health perspective. I'm afraid it came out as a bit of a rant, but this is a topic that brings out the worst in me!

Thanks for the clarification; I look forward to your next post on the subject!

Ellie Finlay said...

This, among other reasons, is why I am a vegetarian.