Thursday, November 17, 2005

Indiana USA Avian Flu Experiment?

Here's a scary experiment.

Let's plop 2,496 head of genetically engineered pigs down into the center of a huge migratory bird population and see what happens.

According to the World Health Organization website:

Avian influenza, or "bird flu", is a contagious disease of animals caused by viruses that normally infect only birds and, less commonly, pigs.

Avian influenza viruses are highly species-specific, but have, on rare occasions, crossed the species barrier to infect humans.

What changes are needed for H5N1 to become a pandemic virus?

The virus can improve its transmissibility among humans via two principal mechanisms. The first is a "reassortment" event, in which genetic material is exchanged between human and avian viruses during co-infection of a human or pig. Reassortment could result in a fully transmissible pandemic virus, announced by a sudden surge of cases with explosive spread.

The very real threat the H5N1 avian flu strain is posing to migratory birds, domestic poultry populations, and even human populations in other areas of the world might be nothing when compared with the potential for disaster that landing 2,496 pigs directly into the center of a major migratory bird resting/feeding area might create, right?

Not according to DNR representative, Jim Bergen, property manager for the Jasper/Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area game reserve in Jasper County, Indiana. According to him, operation of a 2,496-head genetically engineered hog factory farm located on land bordering the reserve, in the center of one of the largest Sandhill Crane migratory resting/feeding grounds in northern Indiana, poses no threat to wildlife population at all.

Other experts strongly disagree with his opinion, and studies appear to back them up.

In fact, it would appear even the Federal Government disagrees with his statements -- comments for which he did not provide any envrionmental studies, impact assessments, or proof of any kind at the recent Board of Zoning Appeals meeting held in Jasper County, supporting the hog factory owner's right to proceed.

For example, from what I understand reading the new "Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2005", an estimated 70 percent of the antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs used in the United States are fed to farm animals for nontherapeutic purposes.

According to the new legislation, "the United States Geological Survey reported in March 2002 that -- (A) antibiotics were present in 48 percent of the streams tested nationwide; and (B) almost half of the tested streams were downstream from agricultural operations."

I'm not sure if any water has been tested in the Northern Indiana counties near the many factory farms that have been springing up like wildfire, but I would be curious to find out.

In another USA Government document published in 2002 by the USA Fish & Wildlife Service titled, “Migratory Bird Mortality” it was stated, “The greatest threat to birds, and all wildlife, continues to be loss and/or degredation of habitat due to human development and disturbance. For migratory birds and other species that require multiple areas for wintering, breeding, and stopover points, the effects of habitat loss can be complex and far-reaching.”

Hmmm... so now we have two FEDERAL GOVERNMENT documents contradicting Mr. Bergen's "assessment" regarding any potential threat to wildlife such a factory might present, one of which documents is actually important new legislation meant to protect the environment, and more urgently, meant to protect human health against the threat of bio-terrorism and the continuing rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases. (Jim Bergen should read it. It's a real eye-opener.)

Here's something which may prove to be disconcerting for some of us...

More than 30,000 Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds forage for food upon the same ground that the waste from this swine factory is to be discharged on each winter; waste that includes any anitbiotics, bacteria and other potential pathogens contained in a year's accumulation of feces from the 2,496 genetically engineered pigs.

Cranes do a great deal of digging with their bills, often penetrating several inches below the surface in search of a morsel, according to Baker Sanctuary's website (located in Calhoun County, Michigan). Animals such as snails, crayfish, worms, mice, birds, frogs, snakes, and many kinds of insects are consumed in addition to their favorite -- harvested grain such as corn, wheat, and barley -- often left and disced in the fields in this area following harvest time.

Considering the amount of pig waste that will be spread in this region after the hog factory begins operation, be honest, does this sound like a potential threat to wildlife to you?

I'm no expert on the subject, and I'm certainly no scientist, but I like to think I at least have some common sense. But I'm beginning to think it might be in short supply elsewhere (right Jim?)...

Who hires these people, anyway? Sheesh!

One more important quote to consider from the World Health Organization webiste:

A pandemic can start when three conditions have been met: a new influenza virus subtype emerges; it infects humans, causing serious illness; and it spreads easily and sustainably among humans. The H5N1 virus amply meets the first two conditions: it is a new virus for humans (H5N1 viruses have never circulated widely among people), and it has infected more than 100 humans, killing over half of them. No one will have immunity should an H5N1-like pandemic virus emerge.

All prerequisites for the start of a pandemic have therefore been met save one: the establishment of efficient and sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus.
In any case, I saw construction proceeding on the hog factory farm again today.

It's just a short matter of time before, in my humble opinion, the big Indiana avian flu experiment begins.

I'm disappointed...

I'm upset...

I'm scared...

Stay tuned.

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kmyers said...

And here I thought the mass media was avoiding the avian flu/swine connection. Little did I know it's hitting TV airwaves. Need more worries? Watch this

kmyers said...

Still not sure about the "swine" connection when it comes to morphed avian viruses? Then you want to check out this tutorial from Wisconsin University.