No More Chicken Run
Factory farming is healthier: for animals and people. That's the take-home message as Dutch health authorities this week ordered free-range poultry farmers to bring inside their five million outdoor birds. There the birds will be less vulnerable to catching or spreading the deadly avian flu virus that's made its way from Southeast Asia to the doorstep of European Russia in recent weeks.
Southeast Asia has been the origin of all pandemic flu strains and the less deadly annual flu varieties. The new H5N1 flu strain has killed more than 60 people in Asia and destroyed Asia's poultry industry. Why? Free-range farming.
To lower the risk of a deadly pandemic, Asian authorities are instituting several immediate steps: First, they have shut down the traditional live poultry markets in the major cities—a brewing virus-swapping cauldron. Second, they are encouraging farmers to confine their animals and to separate them by species. Ducks are being emphasized because of their interaction with wild waterfowl and because they are silent carriers of the flu virus.
Raising poultry in confinement also makes our food directly safer. Research in the U.K. and Denmark has shown that free-range poultry is three times more likely to be contaminated by salmonella and campylobacter bacteria—two of the most common illness-causing, food-borne bacteria. Why? They're exposed to far more of these pathogens from wild bird droppings.