Friday, 9 February 2007

Bird flu and intensive farming practices

It looks increasingly likely that the bird flu outbreak on the Bernard
Matthews farm in Suffolk got there in imports of poultry meat from Hungary
now that government vets have confirmed that the virus type here matched
the virus there. Scientists are now trying to trace back to find the exact
source ('Hungary link to UK bird flu', Bristol Evening Post, February 9).

Part of the problem is that movements of both animals and their products
over large distances and frequently, is a key feature of current intensive
animal farming and trading practice. Furthermore the animals are kept at
very high densities, crowded in very close proximity to each other.
Disease spread is density dependent and so once infectious material enters
intensive farms it has the potential to spread quickly and easily.

With both the BSE/Mad Cow Disease and foot and mouth crises we have
experienced how animal movements and intensive stocking are factors
helping disease spread.

Is it not time to learn lessons from what seems to be a general pattern of
practice weakening our food security, safety and health? More localised
production by less intensive and more natural methods is both better from
an animal welfare, human health and food safety and security viewpoint.
Unfortuneately it seems that part of the hidden cost of so-called cheap
food is the periodic occurrence of potentially very serious diease
outbreaks of various types.

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