The USDA’s Latest Dumb Idea to Combat Avian Influenza

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Is it okay to let the fans and air conditioners go off in a shed with 20,000 chickens inside? Of course not, and poultry growers have been prosecuted and fined for such negligence.

Yet, the USDA as of September 18, 2015 has sanctioned this action as an appropriate “depopulation” measure in an avian influenza-infected poultry barn. The ends justify the means. Apparently, gassing and foaming (causing suffocation) are too expensive and time-consuming.

Time to death, optimistically estimated at 40 to 60 minutes, depends upon outside temperature. (We assume drinking water is shut off as well). Whether this method is used or not remains to be seen, but we have to ask, “What kind of people would condone such a slow, cruel massacre?”

Questioning the Root Causes of Avian Influenza

The bigger question is “why?” Why is avian influenza happening? The poultry industry prides itself on control, from environmental comfort and nutritional quality to bio-security. Everything is state-of-the-art technology throughout. It is technology that allows the incredible scale of production involving as few humans as possible, resulting in an extremely inexpensive product (well, at the store anyway).

So, where is the system breaking down? Industry blames migrating birds and “backyard flocks” (a catch-all USDA term for everything not huge), but the outbreak numbers don’t support this. In fact, the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association’s 1,000-plus members have been unaffected.

Benefits of Pastured Poultry

To my colleagues who have chosen farming and ranching in nature’s image, avian influenza is neither surprising nor threatening, except in the sense of being an inconvenienced neighbor. Mass confinement of animals breaks too many rules to be sustainable, so it’s a matter of when and how, not if, the system is going to break down. Mother Nature always bats last.

Natural agriculturalists don’t even question that their animals live in fresh air and sunshine with abundant, clean water. We recoil at the idea of sub-therapeutic antibiotics to keep animals healthy.

Rather, we explore new ways to better replicate migration for the migrating animals, rooting for the rooters, and scratching and pecking for the scratchers and peckers. The more natural the environment, the happier and healthier for all parties. The more unnatural, the more AI, Salmonella, E. coli, fish kills, nitrogen pollution, cannibalism, liver abscesses…someone stop me — and who knows what next?

It is a damnation of today’s Big Ag that a statement supporting natural production even needs to be made. But it’s not just Big Ag. Big Ag is in bed with Big Bureaucracy. The very government officials charged with regulating Big Ag are ex-Big Ag execs.

Duh! The USDA is full of Big Ag execs making dumb decisions. Need an example? “Hey, let’s irradiate meat so we can butcher so fast we get poop on it and just leave the poop on!”

That’s why we call it the US-Duh. And that is how it became okay to let the fans and air conditioners go off in a shed with 20,000 chickens inside.

Photo by Morguefile/sioda

David Schafer is currently President of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association.

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