Martin W

    Good article in the New Statesman, by science ed of the times, on tendency for wild birds to be rapidly blamed for H5N1 outbreaks, then details suggesting there are other reasons.

    [re Suffolk outbreak] for Matthews, and his fellow poultry industry moguls, whose factory farms dot East Anglia, there is a more important consolation. This is that both the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the public have been so easily persuaded that wild birds were the likely source of the outbreak.
    Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, was quick to offer such an explanation when the outbreak was confirmed as the dreaded H5N1. “The most likely source is a wild bird,” he declared firmly. “Faeces on the concrete outside could have been walked in by a worker or it could have been deposited on the roof.”
    It was a claim without the least shred of evidence. Confirmation of the H5N1 strain had come less than two hours earlier and the scientific investigation had yet to begin. But Bradnock’s suggestions ran far and wide in the national media.

    how likely is it that an infected bird managed first to target a turkey farm and then to bypass all the defences set up to prevent such break-ins?

    Those pushing the wild birds- as-vector thesis often cite the mass outbreak of H5N1 among geese in Qinghai Lake, northern China in 2005. The lake is on an intersection of the migratory routes of many different bird species, so a theory quickly emerged of how the virus was then carried westwards by migratory birds to Kazakhstan, Russia and even Turkey.
    It was an attractively simple explanation, and widely repeated – but the truth was more complex. Qinghai Lake is also at the centre of a thriving intensive poultry and fish-farming industry. The industry is highly integrated – so much so that chicken faeces from the farms are fed to the fish. The farms around Qinghai trade birds and eggs with others in Lanzhou, the source of infected poultry that also caused an outbreak of H5N1 in Tibet, 1,500 miles away.
    Similarly, when avian flu broke out in a village in Turkey in 2005, the poultry industry was quick to blame migratory birds. But once media interest faded, it emerged that a nearby factory farm had been importing birds from the Far East and trucking old chickens to local markets, an equally likely source.
    The global trade in poultry feed is another wild card.

    A wild goose chase

    Post edited by: Martin, at: 2007/02/10 01:18