New killer diseases: nature strikes back against factory farming

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2004:

GUANGZHOU, Guang-dong province, China–
Representing the unholy marriage of wildlife
consumption with factory farming, an estimated
10,000 masked palm civets, tanukis, (also
called raccoon dogs), and hog badgers were
sacrificed in the first 10 days of January 2004
for the sins of the meat industry.
Mostly cage-reared from wild-caught
ancestors, the civets, tanukis, and hog
badgers were either drowned in disinfectant or
electrocuted, still in their cages, as China
tried to prevent a recurrence of the Sudden Acute
Respiratory Syndrome outbreak that killed 774
people worldwide in 2003, after killing 142
people in 2002. The animals’ remains were burned.
More than three million chickens, ducks,
geese, and quail were killed elsewhere in
Southeast Asia to try to contain outbreaks of
H5N1, an avian flu virus that can spread
directly to humans. The first known
identification of the outbreak came after the
Taiwan Coast Guard intercepted six ducks after
they were thrown from a mainland Chinese fishing
boat into the water off Kinmen island. The crew
may have been disposing of sick ducks who were
taken to sea as food, but rumors have identified
the incident with everything from exotic animal
smuggling to germ warfare.

By January 21 at least six nations were
affected and 14 Viet-namese, mostly children,
had died from H5N1 symptoms, with five human
H5N1 deaths confirmed.
“Southern China, where poultry and pigs
are raised alongside each other in high-density
farms, is a reservoir of mutating viruses,”
Adam Luck of the Daily Telegraph reported on
January 18. “In the past, H5N1 killed only
chickens, but wild birds, ducks, and geese are
all dying in the fresh outbreak.”
“There is a vital need for information
from mainland China,” World Health Organization
virology adviser Robert Webster told Luck.
“Where the hell are all these viruses coming
from? What is going on in Vietnam is of very
great concern. If H5N1 gets out of control it
will make SARS look quite trivial–like a puff of
“A pandemic influenza is certainly much
bigger than SARS,” microbiologist Malik Peiris
told Jonathan Ansfield of Reuters. The three
most deadly flu epidemics of the 20th centry, in
1918-19, 1957-58, and 1967-68, all originated
in the farms and live markets of Guangdong. As
recently as 1997-98 Hong Kong civil servants
killed more than 3.5 million poultry to stop an
H5N1 outbreak that apparently came from
Guangdong, despite official denials.
WHO regional coordinator Peter Cordingly
told Doan Bao Chu of Associated Press in Manila,
Philippines, that H5N1 is “a bigger potential
problem than SARS because we don’t have any
defense against the disease. If it latches onto
human influenza virus, it could cause serious
international damage.”
South Korea detected H5N1 on December 15.
On December 21, after limited culling failed to
keep it from spreading, Prime Minister Goh Hun
ordered the slaughter of 2.5 million chickens and
miscellaneous other fowl. A five-year-old boy
had contracted the disease, but recovered.
The Korea Herald, not friendly toward
protests against dog-and-cat-eating, on December
26 published an extensive expose of inhumane
culling methods, denounced by Voice4Animals
founder Park Chang-kil.
At least two million chickens had died
from H5N1 in Vietnam by January 20, or were
killed in containment efforts –but Ministry of
Agriculture deputy veterinary director Nguyen Van
Thong acknowledged to Tini Tran of Associated
Press that as many as 900,000 infected chickens
had been sold and eaten, mostly in Long An and
Tien Giang provinces.
Thailand killed more than 850,000
chickens in 20 provinces after discovering three
human cases of H5N1.
Cambodia, between Vietnam and Thailand, almost
certainly had been hit as well. Japan killed
6,000 chickens in one infected flock. Taiwan
killed 50,000 chickens to contain a milder avian
flu before it had time to mutate.

BSE found in Washington

Also sacrificed to controlling disease
resulting from factory farming practices were
nearly 600 cows and calves in Washington state,
plus about 150 cattle in Alberta, after a test
on the brain of a downed six-year-old Holstein
dairy cow who was slaughtered in Washington on
December 9 discovered– two weeks later–that she
had the first known case of bovine spongiform
encephalopathy, BSE for short, in the U.S.
The cattle were killed for testing, as
at least 36 nations banned imports of U.S. beef
and byproducts of cattle slaughter, because they
were either close relatives of the infected cow,
or had lived on the same farms.
BSE has been linked since 1996 to the
brain-destroying and inevitably fatal new-variant
Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease. Recent studies also
indicate that mad cow disease may be implicated
in the older form of CJD, previously considered
a condition of age, and that CJD may be spread
through blood transfusions as well as through
consumption of infected cattle.

SARS re-emerges

Fears that SARS might once again erupt in
Guangdong and spread were whetted by the
discovery of three new cases, all in Guangzhou,
the Guangdong capital. They were the first,
other than two cases of accidental self-infection
by researchers in Singapore and Taiwan, since
May 23, 2003.
The first known victim was 32-year-old
television producer Luo Jian, who fell ill on
December 16 with the coronavirus found in civets,
but swore he had never eaten or handled a civet.
Describing himself to the official Xinhua news
agency as “an environmentalist who is against the
slaughter of living creatures,” Luo said he had
recently removed a baby mouse from a bath tub
with a pair of chopsticks, and had tossed the
mouse outside through an open window. That was
his only known contact with wildlife.
The China Daily on January 6 issued an
unconfirmed report, contradicted by the WHO,
that the SARS virus had been found in 30 rats
trapped in Luo’s apartment. WHO said the rats
tested free of SARS.
The chance that rats carry SARS alarmed
authorities not only because rats are ubiquitous
and virtually ineradicable, but also because
rats are eaten in Guangdong. Three weeks earlier
the newspaper Xinxishibao reported that one
restaurant in Zhuhai city serves more than 100
rat meat dishes per day.
The second known SARS victim of the new
outbreak was waitress Zheng Ling, 20, who
worked in a Guangzhou restaurant that served
civet meat.
The third victim was a 35-year-old man.
Said Guangdong health bureau official
Feng Liuxiang, “We will start a patriotic health
campaign to kill rats and cockroaches in order to
give every place a thorough cleaning for the
Lunar New Year,” January 22–a holiday marked by
public gatherings and travel to visit distant
WHO warned that the hasty killing of
suspect animals could be more dangerous than
letting the animals live, since the exact means
by which they shed the SARS virus is still
unknown. In addition, killing the animals and
disposing of their remains destroyed potentially
valuable medical evidence.
Beijing environmentalist Guo Geng told
the <> news web site that the civets,
tanukis, and hog badgers should have been
released into the wild, to replenish the
depleted Guangdong wildlife population.
“I’d love it if Cantonese stopped eating
them,” he said. “We shouldn’t be worried about
these animals spreading disease, because when
they see a human they turn and run.”
The new SARS outbreak came a month after
an opinion poll conducted by the Shanghai #2
Medical Sciences University Public Health
Institute found that among 400 Shanghai
residents, 83% had eaten wildlife, 42% said
they would continue to eat wildlife despite SARS,
23% said they would remain avid wildlife eaters,
and only 2% agreed that wild animals deserve to
be protected for their own sake.
The findings showed almost twice the
level of interest in eating wildlife that the
International Fund for Animal Welfare discovered
in a 1998 survey of 864 residents of Shanghai and
839 residents of Beijing–but the IFAW survey
lumped the Shanghai and Beijing data together,
apparently through lack of awareness that wild
animals are not traditionally eaten in the
Mandarin-speaking north of China.
Reappraising the IFAW findings on the
presumption that the Shanghai residents responded
comparably in 1998 and 2003 produces the
inference, supported by recent observation in
Beijing, that virtually all of the wildlife
eaters polled by IFAW were in fact from Shanghai.

Here and there

“You can take some comfort in the
knowledge that the fate the civets are now
receiving is actually better than the fate that
was in store for them,” offered Asian Animal
Protection Network founder John Wedderburn,
M.D., of Hong Kong. “Without this cull they
would have been kept confined in miserable cages
and then transported in wretched conditions to be
slaughtered, almost certainly in a worse manner
than drowning. We non-Chinese do not have the
moral ground to shout at the Chinese for eating
civets,” Wedderburn continued, “until our
countries go vegan and we get rid of our
slaughterhouses, where the methods of death are
often no better.”
“If the suffering of these animals in
Asia upsets you,” agreed PETA correspondent
Coleen Kearon, “then you will be outraged to
know that animal factory farms and
slaughterhouses in our own backyards are guilty
of the same heart-wrenching cruelty. Chickens,
who are intelligent creatures with distinct
personalities like cats and dogs, are crammed
into filthy, tiny cages and left with no room to
move. They, like the cats in the images you may
have seen from Asian live markets, are also
thrown into scalding tanks (designed to remove
feathers), often while still fully conscious.
We are outraged at images of dogs being strung up
and having their throats slit,” Kearon said,
“but we allow slaughterhouses to dangle a cow by
one leg and do the same thing, while she writhes
and screams.”
Intensive national coverage of the BSE
discovery in Washington state often reinforced
Kearon’s point–though the emphasis was on human
health, not animal welfare.
“The news cracked open a door on the
industrial kitchen where America’s meat is
prepared, and what we glimpsed was enough to
send even the heartiest diner to the vegetarian
entrĂ©e,” opined New York Times Magazine
contributing writer Michael Pollan. “We learned,
for example, that the beef we have been eating
might consist of meat from a cow so sick and
hobbled that she must be dragged to the
slaughterhouse…Then her carcass is often
subjected to an ‘Advanced Meat Recovery System’
so efficient at stripping flesh from spinal cord
that the chances are good (35% in one study) that
the resultant frankfurter contains ‘central
nervous system tissue’–precisely the tissue most
likely to contain the infectious prions thought
to communicate BSE.”
Culled from a dairy herd in Mabton,
Washington, the infected downer was slaughtered
at Vern’s Moses Lake Meat Co., and deboned at
Midway Meats in Chehalis. By the time she was
found to have had BSE, her meat had reportedly
been sold to as many as eight western states plus
The USDA screening program for BSE had
not tested any cattle from Washington since 2001,
according to records obtained by Steve Mitchell
of United Press International.
“We have been eating downers and really
picking their bones clean,” Pollan continued.
“And what did these animals eat? Many of us were
urprised to learn that despite the FDA’s August
1997 ban on feeding cattle cattle meat and bone
meal, feedlots continue to rear these herbivores
as cannibals. When young, they routinely receive
‘milk replacer’ made from bovine blood; later,
their daily ration is apt to contain rendered
cattle fat as well as feed made from ground-up
pigs and chickens. But the grossest feedlot dish
has to be ‘chicken litter,’ the nasty stuff
shoveled out of chicken houses: bedding,
feathers and overlooked feed,” which may
“contain the same bovine meat and bone meal that
FDA rules prohibit in cattle feed.”
The BSE-carrying Washington downer was
fed meat-and-bone meal in Alberta in 1997,
investigators learned.
Only one day before the case was
discovered, the USDA trumpeted “the highest beef
prices on record.”
Beef industry lobbying clout had killed
the most recent of a decade of attempts by Farm
Sanctuary to pass a federal anti-downer amendment
criticized by the Humane Farming Association as
too weak to actually keep sick and injured
animals from being sold to slaughter even if
enacted. The 2003 version of the amendment just
barely missed passage in July by the House of
Representatives, 202-199, and cleared the
Senate on a voice vote in November, but was not
included in the final reconciled version of the
legislation to which it was attached.
Farm Sanctuary has also pursued
litigation against the USDA for allegedly failing
to protect public health by not regulating
against the slaughter of downers. A federal court
trial judge dismissed a 1998 Farm Sanctuary
lawsuit contending that the lack of regulation
exposed member Michael Baur to the risk of
contracting CJD. Just after the Washington
downed cow was slaughtered, but a week before
she was sfound to have BSE, the Second U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the case,
agreeing that Baur had “successfully alleged a
credible threat of harm from downed cattle.”
The case may now be moot, since on
December 30 the USDA banned the slaughter for
human consumption of any nonambulatory
bovines–but the ban does not cover other
species, and does not stop slaughtering downers
for pet food.
The American Veterinary Medical
Association on January 1, 2004 approved a
statement intended to improve the treatment of
downed pigs, but stopped short of recommending
that they not be slaughtered for human
Except for one extensive report by Melody
Petersen, syndicated by the New York Times on
November 15, 2003, the discovery of mad cow
disease in the U.S. usurped media notice of a
petition filed the day before by the Humane
Farming Association, asking South Dakota
attorney general Lawrence E. Long to enforce
animal cruelty laws at the Sun Prairie pig
complex on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.
HFA has been helping Sioux opponents of
factory hog farming since 1998. In February 2003
the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review an
April 2002 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals verdict
that may evict Sun Prairie from the
reservation–if Sun Prairie loses a crossfiled
case still underway.
Meanwhile, Sun Prairie began pig
production at 24 barns on two sites in 1999,
with combined output of 96,000 pigs per year.
The HFA petition to Long was accompanied by 65
pages of employee interviews and photos gathered
by HFA chief investigator Gail Eisnitz. The
materials detail conditions falling short of even
the rudimentary animal welfare and sanitation
standards that factory pig farms usually claim to
Much of the cruelty may be attributable
to poorly trained staff, frequent turnover, and
high absenteeism, but those are management
responsibilities. Until basic animal welfare and
sanitation standards are met, the Eisnitz report
indicates that–as PETA charges of the entire
U.S. pig industry–the major difference between
the conditions for pigs on the Rosebud
reservation and for animals in the live markets
of Guangdong may be only that the Sun Prairie
barns have walls and roofs that hide the filth
and misery.

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