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Industrial Chicken

Pandemics Ahead: Number 2 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157)

Chicken, once a distant third to cattle and pig carcass, is now the most popular animal flesh in the US. The average American eats almost 84 pounds of chicken a year, more than twice the amount eaten in 1970. In 2007, 8.9 billion chickens were raised and sold as food in the US, a remarkable jump of more than 1,400% since 1950.(996)

Chicken farms have mushroomed in size. In 2006, a typical broiler operation produced an average of 605,000 birds in vast buildings of 20,000 square feet or more. Meanwhile, the number of individual farms raising chickens for food has plummeted by 98% in just 50 years. The industrialization and consolidation of the chicken business in the US have concentrated production in the 'Broiler Belt.' In this area, which extends from eastern Texas through the southeastern US and north to Maryland and Delaware, chickens outnumber people by as much as 400 to 1.

The waste produced by these concentrated poultry operations raises serious concerns about treatment and disposal, particularly along the shores of the largest estuary system in the US, the Chesapeake Bay. The 523 million chickens produced each year in just Maryland and Delaware generate roughly 42 million cubic feet (1.2bn liter) of chicken waste, enough to fill the dome of the US Capitol about 50 times, or almost once a week.

Industrial chicken production is the fastest growing and most quickly transforming segment of the highly globalized livestock industry. In 2010, there were 20 billion chickens, making them the world’s most numerous bird species By 2020, 124 million tonnes (273 billion lb) of chicken will be produced globally – a spike of 25% in just 10 years.

China’s production enlargement will be highest, a 37% upsurge compared to 2010. Brazil will be close behind at 28%. Below-average growth is forecast for the USA, at 16%, and the EU, at 4%.(997) The most striking climb in demand for chicken will take place in South Asia, where it is expected to jump greater than seven-fold by 2050. This extraordinary expansion is fueled by demand in India, where consumption is expected to climb nearly ten-fold, from 1.05mt to 9.92mt (2.3 billion to 21.8 billion lb) a year.

According to the FAO, this is due to rising per capita consumption rather than the growing human population. Most growth in demand comes from urban areas - double that in rural regions. Nevertheless, animal consumption in India is relatively small and per person it is less than one-tenth of the quantity consumed in China.

People prefer chicken to other types of carcass for many reasons, such as lower price and cultural preference. Producing chicken is cheaper than other types of domesticates, although disease and culling are widespread and growing. The cost of chicken production will rise along with feed, but chickens are more efficient feed converters than other livestock.

Unlike cow carcass and pig flesh, there are few religious or cultural limitations to eating chicken. Plus, food animal consumption is expected to rise in countries where people culturally prefer eating chicken. As a result, production facilities and processing will become increasingly concentrated with attendant panzootic risks.

In December 2012, Chinese national television exposed the “instant chicken” scandal associated with Liuhe, one of the country’s top chicken producers. Liuhe is a subsidiary of New Hope, the biggest feed company in China and one of the largest in the world. As many as 18 antibiotics were discovered in “cocktails” mixed into the feed to accelerate the growth of broilers. These birds could grow from 30 grams (1 oz) to 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) in a matter of 40 days.

Liuhe is one of KFC’s major suppliers. Repercussions from the scandal forced Yum Brands, KFC’s parent company, to admit that excessive drug residues had been observed in “some” chicken supplied by Liuhe in 2010. The scandal caused widespread outrage in the Chinese media, and KFC’s sales plunged. KFC responded by exerting further controls over its supply chain. The animal-processing company now owns all the inputs, controls the land and water resources, and employs the workers who produce the chickens, essentially turning farms into factories.

China is intensifying its chicken production, despite the widespread emergence of avian flu. First detected in 1996 in farmed geese in southern China, this disease has since spread to 60 countries. Since 2004, China has reported avian flu outbreaks every year except 2011.

Chapter 27: PANZOOTIC, page 257.     Previous  |  Home  |  Next

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Regs to Nowhere

Pandemics Ahead: Number 1 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157)

In 1906, Upton Sinclair's seminal book, The Jungle, first brought the shocking details of the animal industry to the forefront of US national attention. A national outcry prompted President Theodore Roosevelt to task the USDA with the inspection of animal carcasses and slaughterhouses.(988) When Congress first addressed food safety issues, it concentrated on the meat processing industry with the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 that required meat processing to be continuously inspected. The US food processing sector is now extensively regulated by state and federal agencies.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (FSMA) was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. The law grants FDA a number of new powers, like mandatory recall authority, which the agency has sought for many years. Notably, federal law still does not prohibit the sale of animal-based products that are infected with pathogens. In particular, it is not illegal for TFCs (transnational food corporations) to sell chicken products polluted with salmonella. Oddly, the USDA does not have the authority to shut down an animal-based agribusiness that fails too many tests. It can only step up inspections.

The USDA has pledged repeatedly to set limits for the most dangerous pathogens, salmonella and campylobacter, in animal-based products. Salmonella and campylobacter live in the guts of animals and can contaminate raw flesh when animals are slaughtered. The USDA's current expectation is that less than 44.6% of a plant’s ground chicken and 49.9% of a plant’s ground turkey should be infected with Salmonella.(989) This means around half of the total animal carcass production can be dangerously toxic and still be approved for consumption.

On January 21, 2015, the USDA finally proposed new testing standards for chicken and turkey aimed at reducing rates of salmonella and other bacteria. The proposed rules aim to reduce contaminant levels by about half, to 25% of tested samples.(990) This is still a dangerous amount of bacteria.

The USDA is not requiring chicken processors to take specific steps to reduce dangerous pathogens in their products. Instead, it is proposing limits on the number of chicken samples that can test positive for salmonella and campylobacter before a facility is deemed to have failed the standards. One of the agency's pilot program allows pig carcass producers to ramp up the speed of processing lines by 20% and cut the number of USDA safety inspectors at each plant in half, replacing them with private inspectors. This program fails to stop contamination, and USDA has allowed other countries to use equivalent methods in plants producing red meat for export to the US.(991)

The USDA's own report determined that livestock “plants have repeatedly violated the same regulations with little or no consequence.” And that inspectors did not “take enforcement actions against plants that violated food safety regulations.”(992)

Meat recalls due to contamination have become so commonplace that when the USDA announced in 2008 the recall of 143 million pounds (65m kg) of ground cow carcass, the largest recall in history, it hardly sparked much interest. Around 50 million pounds (22m kg) of that cow flesh went into school lunches and federal food programs for the poor and elderly.(993)

Livestock production creates a multitude of health issues for people and animals. In the US, chicken products contaminated with pathogens such as Salmonella, cause a larger number of deaths than any other food product.(994) Numerous illnesses can quickly become life-threatening for food animals trapped in CAFOs (concentrated animal feed operation), and can spread rapidly under massed confinement.(995)

Chapter 27: PANZOOTIC, page 256.     Previous  |  Home  |  Next

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Pandemics Ahead: Number 4 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157)

A panzootic is an epizootic or an outbreak of an infectious disease of animals, that spreads across a large region, like a continent, or even worldwide. The equivalent in human populations is called a pandemic. A panzootic can start when three conditions have been met: (a) the emergence of a disease new to the population; (b) the agent infects a species and causes serious illness; and (c) the agent spreads easily and sustainably among animals. 

A disease or condition is not a panzootic merely because it is widespread or kills a large number of animals; it must be infectious as well. Cancer is responsible for a large number of deaths but is not considered a panzootic because the disease is, generally speaking, not infectious.

Cattle plague is a panzootic that recurred throughout history, often accompanying wars and military campaigns. Cattle plague affected Europe especially in the 18th century with three long panzootic from 1709–1720, 1742–1760, and 1768–1786 that devastated thousands of herds. There was a major outbreak covering the whole of Britain in 1865/66. Later in history, an outbreak in the 1890s killed 80 to 90% of all cattle in southern Africa, as well as in the Horn of Africa. A hundred years later, rinderpest outbreak raged across much of Africa in 1982–1984, costing US$500 million in losses.

Avian flu is another zoonotic than can become panzootic. It is feared that if the avian influenza virus combines with a human influenza virus in a bird or a human, the new subtype created could be both highly contagious and highly lethal. 

In 1996, the UK slaughtered 4.4 million cattle to eradicate mad cow disease, while 400,000 were killed in 2001 in Germany. In 2009, Egypt ordered the cull of all pig herds, over 400,000 pigs, to avoid swine flu. In 2014 in the US, seven million piglets, or 10% of piglets born, died due to Porcine diarrhea virus.

In 2014 alone, a list of mass animal deaths contains dozens of incidents across the world. Concerns over avian influenza in South Korea led to 14 million birds being slaughtered in 2014, and 324,000 in China, another 46,000 in North Korea, 112,000 in Japan, 64,000 in Vietnam, 40,000 in Holland, 38,000 in Germany, 20,000 in Hong Kong, and thousands further in Nepal. In northeast China, after 18,000 geese died from H5N6 bird flu, and 69,000 were culled.(1003) 

In Beijing in 2014, 20,000 ducks died suddenly due to avian influenza, while 10,000 chickens died in Malaysia. And in Sweden, 24,000 chickens were slaughtered due to an outbreak of Paramyxovirus type 1 disease. On top of that, in 2014, thousands of chickens died in Indonesia from Boyolali coli disease. Farmers suspect that weather anomalies make their chickens susceptible to the disease.

In June 9, 2015, in excess of 10% of US chickens raised to produce eggs were killed by or because of a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus. The H5N2 virus affected 39 million chickens—at least 33 million of which were laying hens—and 7 million turkeys.(1004)

After the outbreak of BSE in Europe, sanitary regulation required livestock carcasses to be collected from farms, and transformed or destroyed in authorized plants. This generated an unprecedented volume of GHG pollution. In Spain, carcass collection and transport to intermediate and processing plants meant the emission of 77,344 metric tons of CO2 eq. to the atmosphere per year, in addition to annual payments of $50 million to insurance companies. So replacing the ecosystem services provided by scavengers has conservation costs, and unnecessary environmental and economic costs as well.(1005)

Accretionary animal die-offs due to climate change and zoonetic illness in CAFOs will lead to higher CO2 discharges and a larger energy footprint for the industry, making it inefficient and unsustainable to a larger extent. The industry has failed to come to grips with the hazards of extreme weather and climate warming, and is over-using antibiotics on factory farms in a desperate attempt to control disease. Veterinary medicine use is predicted to intensify as disease burdens swell due to varied climate effects.(1006)

Factory farming poses considerable challenges for global warming, environmental and public health, farmers’ livelihoods, and animal welfare. Even as factory farming bears significant responsibility for planetary warming, it also numbers among the industries that will feel the impact of climate change most keenly. Millions of animals die or are culled by animal agribusinesses, and better management can improve livestock survival under climate and disease stress.

A virtues-based approach could improve our thinking and practice regarding animal agriculture, and facilitate a move from livestock production back to animal husbandry. Although of limited value, this approach centers on attentiveness, responsibility, competence, and responsiveness as part of mitigation.(1007)

Chapter 27: PANZOOTIC, page 260.     Previous  |  Home  |  Next

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Avian Flu

Pandemics Ahead: Number 3 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157)

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu is essentially a problem of industrial chicken practices. Intensified stocking rates enhance the danger that crowded conditions in chicken farms will allow avian influenza to spread quickly. Waterfowl such as wild ducks are thought to be primary hosts for all bird flu subtypes. Though normally resistant to the viruses, the birds carry them in their intestines and distribute them through feces into the environment, where they infect susceptible domestic birds.(1001)

Sick birds pass the viruses to healthy birds through saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Within a single region, bird flu is transmitted readily from farm to farm via (a) airborne feces-contaminated dust and soil; (b) by contaminated clothing, feed, and equipment; or (c) by wild animals carrying the virus on their bodies. The disease is spread from region to region by migratory birds and through international trade in live birds. Humans who are in close contact with sick birds, like chicken farmers and slaughterhouse workers, are at the greatest danger of becoming infected. Besides chicken, virus-contaminated surfaces and intermediate hosts such as pigs can be sources of infection for humans. 

According to the WHO, 622 people were infected with H5N1 between 2003 and 2013, and about 60% of those individuals died. The majority of human H5N1 infections and deaths occurred in Egypt, Indonesia, and Vietnam.(1002) Small outbreaks of bird flu caused by other subtypes of the virus have occurred in the past. A less severe form of disease associated with H7N7 was reported in the Netherlands in 2003, where it caused one human death but led to the culling of thousands of chickens. Since then the virus has been detected in the country on several occasions.

A Chinese vaccine was made with H5N1 antigens, but chickens still get infected. And there is drift when the virus mutates in response to the antibodies. Now there are five or six versions of H5N1. Keeping wild birds away from domestic birds help to lessen the spread of H5N1. In 2013, a strain of H7N9 capable of causing severe pneumonia and death emerged in China, with the first confirmed cases detected in February that year and dozens of others reported in the following months. It was the first H7N9 outbreak reported in humans.

The medical industry and scientific community recognize the danger. A UN press release states, "Governments, local authorities and international agencies need to take a greatly increased role in combating the role of factory-farming, commerce in live, and wildlife markets which provide ideal conditions for the virus to spread and mutate into a more dangerous form..." Still, doctors and bureaucrats may be powerless against the livestock industry.

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