The latest Far Eastern outbreak of bird flu (H5N1) has spread beyond its source in Vietnam with the death of a Cambodian woman. There have been 45 deaths in the region in the last 12 months from a disease with over 70 per cent mortality. The source is blamed on farmed ducks and the slaughter of 250,000 is underway, the animals being killed by being burned or buried alive. Last year, over 40 million infected birds died in Vietnam or were killed in similarly barbaric ways because of fears of bird flu.
In November 2004, the campaign group Viva! published a report (Dishing the Dirt) on the dangers posed to humans and animals alike from a whole range of diseases, including bird flu. The H5N1 virus was first detected only in January 2004 but many scientists believe that the flu epidemic of 1918, which killed up to 50 million people, was a mutated bird flu virus. This accounts for the World Health Organisation's current deep concern.
"We don't have any defence against the disease', says Peter Cordingly, regional director in Manila. "If it latches on to a human influenza virus then it could cause serious international damage.' The WHO has expressed fears that this latest outbreak may have already spread to Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar (Burma).
There are currently over 130 million meat and egg-laying chickens in Britain and proportionately similar numbers throughout Europe, most of which are factory farmed.
"With cramped battery cages and tens of thousands of birds kept in single sheds, producers have created filthy, unhygienic wells of disease all over the UK and Europe', says Juliet Gellatley, Director of Viva! "We know it's an animal welfare disaster and having spawned antibiotic-resistant food poisoning bacteria and hospital superbugs, it is rapidly becoming a human disaster, also. The current fears are, of course, that the new virus will infect UK flocks and then us. And current practices ensure it will happen.
'Despite the huge volume of chicken flesh produced in the UK, producers are now importing large quantities from the very countries infected with this new disease " all because it's a few pennies cheaper per pound. The true cost of this saving is appalling disregard for welfare and a potentially devastating lethal human disease for which there is no cure. It is insane and factory farming should be ended before it ends us!'
For information or copies of Viva!'s 56-page, fully referenced report, Dishing the Dirt " the Secret History of Meat, contact Juliet Gellatley or Tony Wardle on 0117 944 1000