Asian H5N1 pandemic rages on–worst ever factory farm disaster

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2004:

Nations Food & Agricultural Organization chief
Jacques Diouf on February 25 opened an emergency
meeting in Bangkok of experts from 23 nations
with a warning that the H5N1 avian flu pandemic
sweeping Southeast Asia in recent months is not
yet under control. Diouf urgently appealed for
economic help from other parts of the world.
Fear that H5N1 could quickly mutate into a
virulent human form was heightened on February 19
when Thai scientists confirmed that the disease
had killed 14 of 15 housecats kept by one family
who had seen one of the cats scavenging a dead
chicken. All of the cats fell ill, but one
Further investigation determined,
however, that H5N1 had apparently not mutated
before killing the cats. In the avian form,
H5N1 kills about 70% of the humans it attacks,
but it apparently does not cross easily into
humans, and attacks mainly children, who have
had less time to develop a spectrum of immunities
to flu viruses.

Trying to eradicate the H5N1 outbreak
before it mutates has involved killing virtually
all the poultry of entire regions. The economic
fallout may have influenced both Japan and
Indo-nesia to claim prematurely that their H5N1
outbreaks were over, and appears to have caused
China to hope repeatedly that the disease was
geographically contained, only to see it leap
hundreds of miles and re-emerge.
Japan came closest to actually stopping
H5N1, going from January 12 to February 17 with
no new cases before an outbreak erupted among
bantam gamecocks kept at a lumber yard far from
two earlier Japanese outbreaks.
Thai poultry consumption fell 50%.
“Demand for chicken meat has dropped 40% in
Jakarta,” poultry producer Eko Sandjojo told
Sari P. Setiogi and Multa Fidrus of the Jakarta
Poultry consumption in Hong Kong fell
from 150,000 birds per day to fewer than 35,000–
less because consumers were scared, however,
than because poultry imports were suspended and
35,000 birds per day is all that local farmers
produce. Vietnam suspended all poultry sales and
“In the past when life was hard,”
Guangzhou People’s Political Consultative
Conference chair Chen Kaizhi lamented to South
China Morning Post reporter Leu Siew Ying, “we
hoped for a disease among our chickens so that we
got to eat chicken. When a chicken dropped its
head, we said, `Good, now we get to eat the
chicken.’ Now people are not allowed to eat
diseased chicken.”
Chinese Deputy Minister of Health Qiang
Gao, a vegetarian for 30 years, and perhaps the
most prominent vegetarian in China, joined other
national leaders in eating chicken on television
to help reassure the panic-stricken public.
Partly, the televised meals were meant to
maintain the public appetite for chicken, as
U.S. news media reported. But they were also
intended to help subdue vigilante action against
healthy chickens and other birds, both domestic
and wild.
Mobs led by poorly educated local
officials were reportedly responsible for some
poultry slaughters that were much more likely to
spread H5N1 than prevent it. The killing at
times resembled the bird purges waged from 1957
to 1962, when former dictator Mao tse Tung
blamed sparrows for famines that killed more than
40 million Chinese people.
An erroneous report from Vietnam that
H5N1 had spread to pigs spread the mayhem.
Quoting “Ling Long, an official from the animal
husbandry office in the Guangxi border city of
Dongxing,” Agence France-Presse reported that on
January 17 local authorities burned alive 800
pigs smug gled in from Vietnam.
The Guangzhou Daily played up reports
about chicken culls, Associated Press writer
Christopher Bodeen observed on February 2. Yet
“At Guangzhou’s Chatou Wildlife & Fowl Wholesale
Market,” Bodeen wrote, “live ducks, geese,
pigeons, and doves were still being sold,
squeezed into cages beside rabbits, cats, and
dogs–all considered delicacies in southern
China. Vehicles entered and left without being
cleaned or sprayed with disinfectant.”
The only facility in China capable of
isolating the H5N1 virus to confirm infections
was reportedly the National Bird Flu Refer-ence
Laboratory in Harbin, near the Russian
border–almost as far from Guangdong as one could
fly without leaving China.

Panic in India

Panic poultry killing erupted in India
during the first week of February without any
clear evidence of an avian flu outbreak. To that
point, India was the only nation bordering on
China to the north that had not been hit.
Chickens are the animals most often eaten in
India, as elsewhere, but about half of all
Indians are vegetarian, and India has few large
poultry complexes. In addition, India has
conspicuously less cockfighting than other
southern Asian nations.
The first Indian reports of chicken
deaths due to an unknown flu-like illness came
from 20 villages in the Dhubri distrct of Assam,
bordering on Bangladesh, said BBC Calcutta
correspondent Subir Bhaumik. According to
Bhaumik, Dhubri district commissioner Preshanta
Barua estimated that 10,000 chickens had died in
10 days.
Three days later, however, Barua told
Sushanta Talukdar of The Hindu that only 1,000
chickens died, and just 11 of the 800 chickens
kept at six farms in Dhubri proper.
“We might implement the state Prevention
of Cruelty Against Animals Act against any
poultry farmer who would kill large number of
birds, which could send a wrong message,” West
Bengal state director of animal resources Swapan
Dasgupta told Nirmalaya Bannerjee of The Times of
This was just before word spread that
workers had apparently buried alive about 12,000
chickens at Alphonsus’ Social & Agricultural
Centre in Kurseong, West Bengal. Opened in
1964, the site was among India’s first factory
farms. Investigators found no hint of avian flu
among the carcasses.
The culling procedures in most afflicted
nations were comparably crude. Live burial using
heavy equipment was the most common killing
method. Live burning, most openly practiced in
southern China and Bali, Indonesia, was next
most often reported. Some Vietnamese farmers
locked their chickens in sheds to starve. Only
Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore were able to gas
all suspect birds. All three nations are
surrounded by water and were therefore somewhat
more isolated from H5N1 than mainland neighbors.
Vietnam and Thailand each killed about 36
million chickens, Indonesia killed 10 million,
and China killed five million.
The poorest Southeast Asian nations
killed far fewer, not necessarily because they
had less disease. Keepers whose flocks
represented most of their resources often tried
to hide birds. Even where compensation for
culled birds was paid, it was usually just a
fraction of value, and allegations flew about
officials demanding kickbacks.
Laos had killed 40,000 chickens through
February 12 at farms surrounding Vientiane, the
capital city.
Cambodia killed 25,000 chickens, ducks,
and swans. Farmers living along the main roads
from Vietnam tried to ward off H5N1 with
“The scarecrows are not intended to deter
birds,” explained culture ministry spokesperson
Hang Soth. “They are part of a long tradition of
scarecrows intended to ward off disease or
Myanmar denied having any H5N1. Outside observers were skeptical.
Conflicting values
“Mass culling always raises a conflict
between speedy dispatch and humane slaughter,”
observed Compassion In World Farming chief
executive Joyce D’Silva. “The appallingly rough
treatment of these chickens is a welfare
scandal,” D’Silva said.
Changkil Park, founder of the South
Korean organization Voice-4-Animals, objected
soon after the culling started that the Korean
agriculture ministry “failed to provide an
adequate system and guidelines to deal with the
situation. Local officials were not given any
equipment to kill humanely.”
Added Voice-4-Animals member Eileen
Cahill in a commentary for the Korea Herald,
“Voice-4-Animals has evidence that almost all the
birds exterminated during the December cull in
North Chungcheong were buried alive҆It is too
late to save them. The only thing we can do now
is insist that the minister of agriculture
acknowledge the cruelty and ensure that minimum
standards of decency are observed. PETA
recommends gas slaughter, while the Royal SPCA
believes a veterinarian or other experienced
person should train workers to break their necks
for a quick death.”
“Burying chickens alive is not the right
way to do it,” agreed Thai Animal Guardians
Association chair Roger Lohanon. Lohanon also
favored skilled neck-breaking, he told Prabit
Rojanaphruk of The Nation, since Thailand lacks
gassing equipment.
The Hong Kong-based Animals Asia
Foundation appealed to governments throughout
Asia “to close all live animal markets, to end
the trade and consumption of wild animals and
dogs and cats, and to urgently address the
appalling conditions which millions of livestock
are forced to endure.”
The Animals Asia Foundation quoted World
Health Organization spokesperson Peter Cordingly
as saying, “It might be time, although this is
none of WHO’s business, that humans have to
think about how they treat animals and how they
farm them, how they market them–basically the
whole relationship between the animal kingdom and
the human kingdom.”
Hong Kong Poultry Wholesalers & Retailers
Association chair Steven Wong Wai-chuen on
February 9 accused Hong Kong secretary for
health, welfare, and food Yeoh Eng-kiong of
restricting poultry imports and “using public
opinion to push ahead with a centralized
slaughtering plan” which would put live marketers
out of business.
The Thai government on February 10 hosted
a Buddhist ceremony to bless the spirits of the
dead chickens.
“More than 100 Buddhist monks chanted
blessings for the birds in a merit-making
ceremony at the Agriculture Ministry in Bangkok,”
the Straits Times of Singapore reported, “before
senior officials offered them a meal of fried
chicken and chicken curry. The rite is usually
performed for dead people. The ceremony followed
a government-backed chicken feast at a Bangkok
park” three days earlier, “to encourage the
public to eat chicken and help the country’s
ailing poultry industry.”
Continued the Straits Times, “The mass
slaughter violates Buddhist principles. The
ceremony was aimed at easing public guilt over
killing the birds, government spokesman Prompol
Sod-Eiam said.
“We feel guilty because we are Buddhist,”
Prompol told the Straits Time. “The ceremony can
make us feel relaxed. We apologize to the souls
of the dead chickens.”
Thai public health minister Sudarat
Keyuraphan pledged to send psychiatrists and
psychologists, along with health workers, to
counsel villagers who handled or helped to kill
potentially sick chickens.

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