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How Factory Farming Harms People, Planet and Animals

Pandemic Risk - Our concerns with the UK government and its agencies.

“The problem of zoonotic disease risk is global…

“.. and, in the absence of a global governing body, solutions must include the intervention of federal governments.”
🔗 Source: A Public Health Ethics Case for Mitigating Zoonotic Disease Risk in Food Production.

The UK position

“Our investigation has discovered there are now nearly 800 giant US-style “megafarms” throughout the UK. The biggest house more than a million chickens, 20,000 pigs or 2,000 dairy cows, in sprawling factory units where most animals are confined indoors.” (17th July 2017)
🔗 Source: The rise of the "Megafarm": How British meat is made

Government ministers claim to be doing things better

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One thing is clear: I do not want to see, and we will not have, US-style farming in this country. The future for British farming is in quality and provenance, maintaining high environmental and animal welfare standards. We have a world-leading reputation based on doing things better, and that will not be compromised while I am in this Department.
Source: Hansard - Brexit: Environmental and Animal Welfare Standards debated on Thursday 20th July 2017

Yet UK government grants 204 permits for ‘intensive farms’

Between August 2017 and March 2021, 204 permits were granted for "intensive farms" (pigs and poultry) as defined by the Environment Agency (> 750 sows or > 2,000 production pigs over 30kg or over 40,000 poultry incl. chickens, layers, pullets, turkeys, ducks, quail and guinea fowl)

But government DEFRA are well aware of the risks as the “death plans” show.

In 2000 a Defra employee who went on to be the head of Virology at APHA wrote the following in Veterinary Microbiology:
“Pigs serve as major reservoirs of H1N1 and H3N2 influenza viruses which are endemic in pig populations world-wide and are responsible for one of the most prevalent respiratory diseases in pigs. The maintenance of these viruses in pigs and the frequent exchange of viruses between pigs and other species is facilitated directly by swine husbandry practices, which provide for a continual supply of susceptible pigs and regular contact with other species, particularly humans. The pig has been a contender for the role of intermediate host for reassortment of influenza A viruses of avian and human origin since it is the only domesticated mammalian species which is reared in abundance and is susceptible to, and allows productive replication, of avian and human influenza viruses. This can lead to the generation of new strains of influenza, some of which may be transmitted to other species including humans.”
“Serosurveillance results in Great Britain indicated that more than half of adult pigs in the national population had been infected with one or more influenza A viruses during their lifetime, including 14% of pigs which had been infected with influenza viruses of both human and swine origin (Brown et al., 1995b).”
“Since 1979 the dominant H1N1 viruses in European pigs have been `avian-like' H1N1 viruses which are antigenically and genetically distinguishable from North American classical swine H1N1 influenza viruses, but related closely to H1N1 viruses isolated from ducks (Pensaert et al., 1981; Scholtissek et al., 1983). All of the gene segments of the prototype viruses were of avian origin (Schultz et al., 1991) indicating that transmission of a whole avian virus into pigs had occurred and, as a result, have been implicated as the possible precursors of the next human pandemic virus (Ludwig et al., 1995)”.
“Close contact between pigs (often enhanced through husbandry practices), stressful situations, meteorological and environmental factors are conducive to the spread of influenza viruses”. “These observations support the potential role of the pig as a mixing vessel of influenza viruses from avian and human sources”.
“Therefore, the possibility for the introduction of avian influenza virus genes to humans via pigs could occur.” “The limited immune selection in pigs facilitates the persistence of these viruses, which may in future transmit to a susceptible human population”.
🔗 Source: The epidemiology and evolution of influenza viruses in pigs IanH.Brown.


It is not possible to prevent all airborne infections from entering a unit”

Source: Defra - Code of practice for the welfare of PIGS

“Research has repeatedly demonstrated that farmers' uptake of biosecurity recommendations is often poor”

🔗 Source: The Role of Biosecurity in the Control of Campylobacter: A Qualitative Study of the Attitudes and Perceptions of UK Broiler Farm Workers

No wonder despite H5N1 and H5N8 circulating DEFRA describes the risk as “low”

22 outbreaks of high pathogenicity avian influenza in the UK Nov 2020 to March 2021 in unconnected premises and with transfer to a fox and seals reveals biosecurity argument flaws.

The outbreak of high pathogenicity avian influenza virus in GB from November 2020 to March 2021 consisted of two types of virus, H5N8 (twenty infected premises) and H5N1 (two infected premises). Infection was disclosed across England, Scotland and Wales in commercial layer and broiler flocks, small-holder flocks, game flocks, captive bird collections and birds of prey – including a conservation centre and two animal rescue centres. There was no apparent spatial nor temporal clustering of infected premises.

and continues

Despite the high level of genetic identity, the geographical split of cases across the UK suggests that there is no direct relationship between infected premises and supports multiple independent introductions from wild birds with minimal viral divergence.

and the Executive Summary concludes

The unusual detection of H5N8 of avian origin in four seals and a fox that had been brought as casualties from the wild and which were being held in close proximity to infected wild swans, while all were undergoing treatment in a rehabilitation centre, indicated that cross-species transmission can occur should conditions allow. However, thorough analysis of genetic data generated from samples taken in the investigation of this isolated event, indicated that no significant adaptive genetic changes had occurred to increase the affinity for mammalian tissues, and that the risk of human infection from this virus remained low.
Source: Animal & Plant Health Agency - High pathogenicity avian influenza H5N8 and H5N1 outbreaks in Great Britain

“Low risk” despite H5N1 and H5N8 circulating among different premises and other mammalian species

“Currently, these viruses are yet to effectively replicate and transmit between humans, however, experiments in ferrets show that only a few mutations are needed for H5N1 and H7N9 viruses to quickly adapt and become a major pandemic threat (114, 168). Their ability to pass from birds to mammals commonly in contact with humans requires constant surveillance across all known bird reservoirs to limit the potential threat of an AI-derived pandemic
🔗 Source: The Drivers of Pathology in Zoonotic Avian Influenza: The Interplay Between Host and Pathogen
“In 2006 influenza researcher Robert Webster declared that “the likelihood of an H5N1 influenza pandemic seems high, and the consequences could be catastrophic. Recent findings suggest that the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic may have resulted from a similar interspecies transmission event in which a purely avian virus adapted directly to human-to-human transmission”
🔗 Source: Emerging Zoonotic Diseases: Should We Rethink the Animal–Human Interface?

🇬🇧Contrast how DEFRA talks about Avian Influenza 2022 compared with 2021 - is that risk as low as they claim?

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🔗 Source: Avian influenza (bird flu): cases and disease control zones in England

The WHO use the word critical describing the risk

“Humans can be infected with avian, swine and other zoonotic influenza viruses, such as avian influenza virus subtypes A(H5N1), A(H7N9), and A(H9N2) and swine influenza virus subtypes A(H1N1), A(H1N2) and A(H3N2). The majority of human cases of influenza A (H5N1) and A(H7N9) virus infection have been associated with direct or indirect contact with infected live or dead poultry. Controlling the disease in the animal source is critical to decrease risk to humans.”

UK government , the Health and safety executive get involved

“If notifiable avian influenza infection in poultry is confirmed, the Government will arrange for the poultry on that farm and any direct contact birds to be humanely killed and transported to specialist incineration or rendering facilities for disposal“
🔗 Source: Avoiding the risk of infection when working with poultry that is suspected of having H5 or H7 notifiable avian influenza

Trying to make the problem go away

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🔗 Source: Farm filmed dumping thousands of chickens killed in bird flu outbreak in open-air skips

But you can’t just throw away pandemic risk

A 2018 study found traces of an avian virus in air samples 50-110 metres from the infected farm even after the birds had been removed.
“confinement inside housing does not seem to be effective enough to prevent viral diffusion into the environment surrounding infected premises and the culling process requiring the loading of the animals into containers located outside the poultry house seems to generate an important emission of potentially infectious dust and/or aerosols into the environment”.
🔗 Source: Airborne Detection of H5N8 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus Genome in Poultry Farms, France


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