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Genetic Diversity Keeping Bird Flu At Bay

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    Posted: May 09 2006 at 5:24pm

Genetic diversity keeping the bird flu at bay

Neil Horner Photo

WAYNE AND DAWN Osborne have to work harder than most chicken producers to catch their birds. Above, Wayne takes an unsuccessful dive as Chicken Little makes a break for it.

By NEIL HORNER News Reporter
May 09 2006

These days, it seems like there are very few meat products that don’t give shoppers pause when they’re loading up their carts at the supermarket.
Beef elicits fears of BSE (Mad Cow Disease), chicken prompts alarm about bird flu and the list goes on.
It doesn’t have to be that way, says Wayne Osborne of Omega Blue Farms. He shakes his head when he hears tales of residents lining up on the white cliffs of Dover, armed with shotguns to bag any possibly infected wild birds flying across the English Channel from Europe.
There are, he says, far better ways to deal with the issue.
Osborne, a non-practicing biologist and co-owner of Omega Blue Farms, an organic chicken ranch, recently attended a seminar in Vancouver on bird flu. He came away frustrated with the seemingly wilful blindness of those charged with addressing the problem.
“Different branches of government were talking about what they were doing and why,” he says. “It was irritating because they know the factory farms are the source of the problem. They know that high density is where low path avian flu becomes high path avian flu.”
The low-pathogenic flu, he says, is everywhere in the bird population, all the time. It only becomes a problem when it mutates to a highly pathogenic form. Combining crowded conditions with a lack of genetic diversity is a dangerous road to follow, he says.
“That only happens in high density situations,” he says. “They have thousands of birds in one barn ..
. If we had avian flu here it would die out, because we have too much genetic diversity.”
Osborne says speakers at the conference spent the vast majority of the time talking about migratory birds and exposure to backyard flocks, rather than on the issue of factory farming and its role in incubating and spreading the disease.
They focused on bio-security concerns [with migratory birds] and not one person on the panel talked about the role factory farms play.”
Osborne says a lot of the avian flu is spread through the feed mills, where he says chicken manure is mixed in with the feed, a practice he says makes no sense at all, biologically.
“Flu can often be traced back to where the corporation is feeding them,” he says.
“Feeding animals [or animal by-products] to animals breaks the basic tenant of agriculture. You never keep a closed cycle. You feed plants to animals and animals to plants.”
For instance, he says, owners of apple orchards should not use compost from the apple tree leaves to feed the trees.
“You use that for other crops,” he says. “Industry has forgotten that rule and we now have chicken manure being fed to chickens and we have cattle parts fed to cattle and we end up with BSE.”
Despite what he calls a clear link between factory farming of poultry and the scourge of bird flu,
this blind eye is continually turned to the issue, he says, and for one very good reason.
“Corporations pay more taxes than migratory birds do,” he says, “so it’s politically more simple to focus on migratory birds.”

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