Bird flu has broken out at six farms supplying corporate turkey processor Dakota Provisions, resulting in the euthanization of hundreds of thousands of birds. Laying hens in egg factories and commercially raised pheasants can also catch and spread bird flu.
Writing large its pro-corporate, anti-small-farm bias, the GOP spin blog remains silent about the hazards of bird flu until it can pin the danger on one of its preferred whipping boys, backyard chickens:
I know I’ve mentioned this every time I’ve written about it, but KELOland news is the first Mainstream Media source who is also noting that those cute chickens in your backyard who give you eggs could be bird-flu vectors [Pat Powers, “Backyard Chickens Confirmed by KELO as Bird-Flu Vectors,” Dakota War College, 2015.04.28].
Powers has a long record of opposing backyard agriculture because of his perception that increasing one’s food self-sufficiency is just some liberal fad. He dangles this KELO story—which, beyond Pat’s selective snippage, emphasizes that the threat comes from migratory birds, talks to a backyard chickeneer who suggests he can keep his birds healthy through good feeding and watering, and says turkeys are more susceptible to bird flu than chickens—as a reason to oppose backyard poultry. But as usual, Powers fails to cross-apply his logic and call for a ban on the giant turkey farms where all of the bird flu in South Dakota is taking place.
To put the problem in perspective with evidence (a phrase you’ll never hear used properly by Powers), let’s review the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service list of avian influenza outbreaks. The Pacific Northwest had a bird flu outbreak over the winter reported mostly among backyard flocks ranging in size from 30 birds to 5,830. Excluding that largest “backyard” operation, the average size of the backyard flocks affected was about 160. Urban chicken advocates in Brookings were talking about having six hens.
In the current outbreak in the Central and Mississippi regions, 69 out of 73 confirmed occurrences of bird flu have been on commercial poultry farms, almost entirely among turkeys. USDA-APHIS reports 285,900 bird flu vectors in South Dakota, all at those six commercial turkey plants. The nearest backyard outbreak confirmed so far came at a Pipestone backyard operation with 150 “mixed poultry.” The 233 backyard birds involved in this region’s current avian flu outbreak constitute 0.0026% of the 8.9 million birds affected, or 1 out of 38,000 birds.
If Powers is worried about six bird flu vectors in his neighbor’s backyard, he should be positively apoplectic at the prospect of six million bird flu vectors in the giant egg factory Peter Sonstegaard wants to build in the City of Parker’s backyard. But you won’t hear that from Pat. You won’t hear an honest discussion of animal epidemiology, sanitation on crowded corporate farms, or the fact that amidst these millions of suspect birds, not one human has caught bird flu. No, you’ll just hear hysterical misreadings of the popular press used to reassure himself and his cackling readers that their virulent hatred of things they’ve labeled liberal is perfectly healthy.