Sunday, 18 November 2007

Consider the birds of the air

Poor old farmers. Can there be a more smeared and sneered at group in Britain - or one that has had so much thrown at it in so short a time? And are journalists really unable to see a difference between farmers (people who farm)and those grotesque agri-barons who treat animals as mere parcels of protoplasm to be crammed behind the high walls of factories? Or is it all part of some campaign smiled upon by Downing Street and upheld by Fleet Street that has kept public sympathy away from farmers for so long? In the Observer, for example, we read yet another paragraph implying that farmers bring problems upon themselves:
".... Some disease outbreaks, however, have been caused by clear lapses in biosecurity on farms. The bird flu found at a Bernard Matthews plant last year was traced back to its plant in Hungary..."
The Holton outbreak had nothing to do with 'farms' and everything to do with the dangerous and miserable practice of turning animal husbandry into dreary mass production.

So many disease outbreaks are making people wonder more and more about the health of the animals themselves - and they are beginning to question the ethics of the huge producers. Farmers who farm are thus a problem for the factory barons and they are "demanding" change. Those enterprises that still make contact with nature make them "incensed" apparently. Consider the birds of the air. Valerie Elliott's Times article on Friday concluded:
"Poultry farmers are incensed by what they perceive as lax biosecurity at the farm which allowed turkeys, geese and ducks to mingle with wild birds near an ornamental lake. Many are now demanding new rules for free-range and organic birds and for the Government to regulate rather than offer guidance ...."
Such "farmers" would indeed love to see yet more regulation tangling up the lives of those who produce free range hens and eggs. Such dastardly laxity, such "mingling" between the free and the enslaved must be outlawed for good.

Interesting that on the 13th November the 'spread by wild birds' theory was the first to be trotted out in relation to the finding of H5N1 at Redgrave Park farm in Suffolk. It was the same story at Bernard Matthews too in February. If it is said enough times, will people forget the self-evident fact that overcrowding breeds disease? Where a virus can mingle among so many it can mutate. On Friday night, at a public meeting in the Diss area, someone from Defra confirmed that tests on wild birds have shown no signs of bird flu at all. Suspicion that the virus was imported - as it was last time - is inescapable. It looks certain that, back in February, the Bernard Matthews factory imported the H5N1 virus as a result of the utterly mad to-ing and fro-ing of carcases and meat products between the UK and Hungary. Free-range poultry keepers were inconvenienced and worried for weeks as a result.

What was it that allowed the Holton factory not to be prosecuted? Dangerous practices were ignored. Why was the Bernard Matthews factory actually compensated by taxpayers to the tune of something like £600,000? Cui bono? One Holton statement said
"... we will not be complacent because bird flu did strike us. Together with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) we're working hard to learn all we can from this episode "
Unfortunately, in the area of animal disease, the UK's record on learning lessons is pitiful. The Bernard Matthews outbreak left many questions unanswered . Free range poultry owners are not going to be allowed to protect their birds with vaccines because of the old mantra, rolled out yet again a few days ago that " is possible that some vaccinated birds would still be capable of transmitting the disease if they became infected whilst not displaying symptoms...." Dr Ruth Watkins says this is not true if the whole flock is vaccinated. And who in their right mind would suggest vaccinating only a few?

"If 3 weeks has passed since commencing the vaccine course (2 doses) (or the time stated by the manufacturers for full immunity) then there will be a solid immunity in the flock. We are not talking about vaccinating an already infected flock."

Intensive factory farms seem set to go on transforming the miserably short, unnatural lives of farmed poultry into vacuum packed meat products for the supermarkets. That the cost of all this is much too high must surely now be self evident.

In East Anglia the high densities of poultry and of pigs is a disaster waiting to happen. It is regulation of the intensive exploitation of food animals that is needed - not only because industrial scale production is cruel but because it is dangerous. And we need a vaccination policy.

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