Monday, April 10, 2006



India poultry farmers now plunged into even deeper poverty by the outbreaks of the avian influenza virus are not the first in the world to claim there is an "international conspiracy" behind the spread of the virus, the massive culls of bird stocks and the dangerous gaps in official confirmations of outbreaks.

Vietnamese farmers made the same claims back in 2004, as did Rusisan poultry producers in 2002 and 2003.

The problem seems to be the disjointed and occasionally bizarre way the virus has spread around the world over the course of the last eight years. While there are many claims that the virus "takes wing" and spreads from country to country in infected flocks of wild birds, the scientific evidence for this is actually quite thin on the ground. And in some infected regions of India, there are no gathering points for migratory birds at all.

Recently, there has been a number of scientists who've claimed the virus is actually a product of the horrific conditions in which many poultry birds are kept in high volume farms, where hundreds of thousands of birds are packed into sheds the size of football fields.

The virus can live for days in the droppings of infected birds, and it makes sense to assume that poultry trucks and workers clothes, boots and vehicles could be contaminated.

As many poultry trucks, and workers, move from farm to farm, and crates of live and dead birds were, and are still are, being shipping internationally and across many borders, the virus could easily move great distances in only a matter of days.

In some cases, when you chart the spread of the virus on a map, with the dates of the outbreaks logged, you can see that the virus sometimes leapfrogs countries and regions and appears to broach great distances in time periods that would appear to be much faster than the speed of migrating birds. More like the speed at which poultry trucks move from one of Europe to the other, for example.

This is why it is not impossible to immediately discount the concerns of Indian farmers that the virus appears to be tied up within the high-volume end of the international poultry industry. By blaming the migratory birds, many farmers claim, the mass-production poultry industry can plead ignorance and claim they are not responsible for the spread of the virus.

The conspiracy that some Indian farmers see is a massive cover-up on behalf of the international poultry industry, shippers and traders, while small and independent poultry farmers are forced to sacrifice their entire stock of birds to culls designed to stop the virus from spreading further.

We are not responsible, they claim, but we have to give up our birds and we are not
compensated enough to start over again.

The conspiracy then would be that the spread of the bird flu virus is being used as an excuse to put independent poultry farmers out of business forever. If they can't afford to re-stock and start over, then the farms go up for sale, and they are being brought by the big players in the quarter trillion dollar per year world poultry market.

Such events, and the subsequent sale and changeovers of farm ownership, have occured throughout Vietnam, Indonesia, Russia, China, India and now in Europe as the bird flu virus wreaks financial devastation on the independent farmers.

At a recent meeting organized by the Bombay Veterinary College in India last Monday, representatives of poultry farmers and the poultry industry were furious and voiced their anger at government and international health officials.

"We see some international conspiracy in the entire episode," a number of representatives claimed, in official documents logged at the meeting. The poultry industry in India has lost, literally, billions of dollars and caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Millions of birds have been culled in an affort to stop the spread of the virus and compensation has been small, compared to the eventual market price for the birds that were killed, and slow in coming to the farmers, if they get any compensation at all.

From Express India : "Some of the senior executives of poultry farms from the affected area wanted to know why there was ‘an enormous delay’ between the confirmation and announcement (of tests on affected chickens) and why the industry was not taken into confidence before the announcement.

"They also questioned the place of the outbreak, which had remote chances of getting the bird flu, as the theory of migratory birds does not apply there.

"The poultry industry representatives claimed 16 farmers have reportedly committed suicide after suffering loss in the wake of bird flu outbreak and if the disease recurs there could be more suicides of poultry farmers."

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