A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Bird Flu Back in Labs

Scientists have picked up the work they were doing last year creating deadly bird flu viruses in laboratories in the United States and Denmark.

They’d agreed to a moratorium on developing these new, easy-to-spread versions of bird flu amid fears that the virus could escape, either by mistake or into the hands of terrorists. But the researchers now say they’ll be following new guidelines.

The purpose of the research, they argue, is to find ways to protect us from the increasingly deadly new pathogens.

But we already know how to protect ourselves from bird flu: Do something abut the terrible conditions at factory farms where these diseases are incubated.

Aysha Akhtar, author of Animals and Public Health: Why Treating Animals Better Is Critical to Human Welfare, writes:

By cramming billions of animals into factory farms, we have created a worldwide natural laboratory for the rapid development of a deadly and highly infectious form of H5N1 and other influenza viruses.

Despite numerous attempts to curtail the virus, including vaccinating and “culling” chickens, H5N1 keeps reemerging and will do so as long as factory farms exist.

H5N1 bird flu took hold in humans at the horrific chicken markets of Southeast Asia. Migrating birds also carry it around the world.

In July 2012, another strain of bird flu, H7N3, broke out at chicken factory farms in Mexico, and two and a half million chickens were slaughtered at 31 factory farms.

It’s generally believed that the swine flu outbreak of 2009 incubated at the massive pig factory farms of Mexico that are owned by U.S. agribusinesses. Pigs are very good at mixing up bird viruses with human viruses (brought in by the factory workers), synthesizing them into a new and more dangerous strain to which humans are susceptible.

The solution is not to tinker around with these viruses in laboratories, trying them out on yet more kinds of unwitting animals, but to stop the abuse of animals at factory farms, where the animals are crammed together in terrible conditions that make them perfect breeding grounds for ever more deadly viruses.

Nine billion land animals are slaughtered annually for meat, and the number is expected to double by 2020.

Akhtar writes:

What’s good for animals is also what’s good for us. If we are to truly combat our current health threats, we must acknowledge their link with the treatment of animals so that we can address the underlying roots of these health problems.

If we do not recognize this connection, opportunities to successfully tackle these health crises will be lost.

Better yet, shut these dreadful places down altogether, and switch to a plant-based diet.