The Chicken Economy

  • Written by  Steve Hinchliffe
  • Published in Opinions
The Chicken EconomyBukhanovskyy

24Apr
2017
2017 is the Chinese year of the chicken. This year, the best estimate suggests a record 94 million tonnes of chicken meat will be produced

That’s roughly 52 billion chickens. In the last 50 years, chicken has moved from being a rare food item, too perishable to mass market, to a staple of protein-rich (and low-fat) diets for a growing human population. But it’s not just the numbers that have altered. In the UK, supermarkets have led the field in changing the ways in which chickens are farmed and processed. Agricultural science and military-style logistics have converted a supplementary source of farm income into a highly organised, vertically-integrated industry.

Chickens are now reared under optimal conditions for economic profit and biological growth. High throughput of densely housed and specifically bred birds increase turnover (or the rate at which fully-grown chickens can be sold for meat). The result is a high-volume, low-margin industry, where the profit on each chicken is small but the real money is to be made in developing market share and volume.

Chickens now reach market at almost twice their previous slaughter weight. More astonishingly, improved housing, the use of enriched feeds and growth-promoting antibiotics mean they reach these new weights in half the time; less than 45 days to grow to market weight (sometimes only 38 days). An average poultry farm now houses several hundred thousand birds, arranged in sheds with 30,000 or so in each, all ‘growing’ in a tightly choreographed system to an established end, when they are ‘harvested’, transported and processed to reach supermarket shelves on time and at the correct price. Industry vets say the birds go through the process like ‘race-horses’.

This is an economic model (pile it high, sell it cheap while tuning biological processes to work as hard as possible at the lathe of production) that some say is symptomatic of our age. The journalist Felicity Lawrence suggests the chicken ‘is one of the defining commodities of our era… the sugar, tea and opium of the age.’ If Henry Ford and his motor cars defined the early 20th century, then the chicken and the often casual labour used to harvest and process its meat, Lawrence has suggested, defines our current times. These times can be characterised by global supply chains, precarious labour conditions, and biological stress.

platformAn average poultry farm now houses several hundred thousand birds, arranged in sheds with 30,000 or so in each (Image: Guitar photographer)

This year is also a year of seemingly unprecedented incidences of bird flu. By the middle of January there had been nearly 650 outbreaks of a deadly and virulent form in Europe, involving more than 200,000 cases. This European strain is currently thought not to be dangerous to people. But in China, another strain was, and has this year reached new levels of infection and mortality. The concern is that this may spread globally. By virtue of its ability to adapt, avian flu is known as a ‘potential pandemic pathogen’.

Standard explanations for the increased incidences of bird flu include failures in something called biosecurity. Disease experts often focus on the site of an outbreak. Those farms that allow poultry to mix with wild birds, or places such as live bird markets (particularly in parts of Asia where there is insufficient hygiene), are often blamed for disease spread. These may well be important points for contagion. Yet, there is another pressing question to ask: are the intensively raised, factory-farmed birds that make up the bulk of the 52 billion killed annually also part of the problem? When you add so many birds to the world’s biomass, all growing at rates and in conditions that change their immune responses, then it seems logical that you have changed the conditions for disease. Perhaps instead of sites, we need to focus on this global disease situation?

The evidence for this shift of attention is starting to emerge. First of all, it is important to say that all farms and forms of production involve plenty of opportunity for microbes, like the avian influenza virus, to circulate. Viruses can move with stock, pests, and with staff. The teams that often move from farm to farm to harvest poultry ‘crops’ may be a particular risk. Second, densely farmed birds may be more infectable. Immune systems are compromised at such growth rates, and once the virus is in a flock, it is clearly going to spread with impunity. Third, there is evidence that this avian biomass is altering the genetic make up of the viruses. In evolutionary terms, if you change a microbe’s environment, you are also going to provide the conditions for changing the microbe. Microbes evolve rapidly, and bird flu viruses are known to be particularly promiscuous, adapting quickly to hosts and so on. The raw material for the flu viruses has increased in number and availability as global production has expanded. The microbes are getting better at taking advantage.

Modernising agriculture is clearly of benefit to a world that needs to eat, and eat safely. And yet, we need to be wary of those tipping points at which the gains of modernisation start to backfire. As I write, the international restaurant chain Chipotle, which uses 64,000 tonnes of chicken meat annually, has announced that it is abandoning fast-growing chickens. Driven by food safety concerns and evidence that slower growth results in less disease, we may be seeing the start of a  crucial shift. The health costs of cheap meat may now be tipping the balance. Redressing that would make this year of the chicken one that could be good for all of us.

Donald Trump’s Earth Day Statement Is Shameful

 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-earth-day_us_58fb9b9ee4b06b9cb91759d6

The president has moved swiftly to dismantle a wide range of protections for the environment.

“Our Nation is blessed with abundant natural resources and awe-inspiring beauty. Americans are rightly grateful for these God-given gifts and have an obligation to safeguard them for future generations,” Trump said in the statement Saturday. “My Administration is committed to keeping our air and water clean, to preserving our forests, lakes, and open spaces, and to protecting endangered species,”

Trump, who has claimed that climate change is a hoax that the Chinese invented, has appointed multiple climate change skeptics to fill his cabinet. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, one such skeptic, sued the agency more than a dozen times when the was attorney general of Oklahoma. Rick Perry, now the secretary of energy, said in 2012 he wanted to abolish the department Trump tapped him to run (he now says he regrets the comment).

In his first 100 days as president, Trump has moved to eliminate several protections for the environment. He signed legislation repealing the Stream Protection Rule, which protected streams from mining operations. The president has also moved to eliminate the Clean Water Rule, which protects 2 million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands. Getting rid of the rule could jeopardize drinking water for nearly 120 million Americans and numerous endangered species. He has also moved to get rid of car emission and pollution standards.

The statement also noted that Trump is committed to “rigorous science” and “honest inquiry.”

“Rigorous science is critical to my Administration’s efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection,” Trump said.  “My Administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks.  As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.”

But under Trump, the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology has removed “science” from its mission statement. Trump and Pruitt have questioned well established science that shows global warming is real. His administration has proposed gigantic cuts to biomedical and scientific research and, the EPA and environmental programs.

Trump and the White House have also undermined science by distorting the truth and questioning facts. The entire field of science is built around objective observation and facts in the pursuit of truth. Thousands joined protests around the world on Saturday to highlight how Trump’s disregard for facts undermined science.

Bernie Sanders Condemns Threats Against Ann Coulter Speech At Berkeley

The Extinction Chronicles

OMAHA ― Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) criticized the security threats to a speaking event by conservative pundit Ann Coulter at the University of California, Berkeley that prompted the school to postpone the talk.

“I don’t like this. I don’t like it,” Sanders told The Huffington Post after speaking at a rally for Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello on Thursday night. “Obviously Ann Coulter’s outrageous ― to my mind, off the wall. But you know, people have a right to give their two cents-worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation.”

University officials on Tuesday night informed Berkeley’s College Republicans, who invited Coulter to speak, that the April 27 event would need to be rescheduled due to concerns that her speech would set off violent protests and make it difficult to maintain campus security.

Campus police have…

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Avian flu restrictions at Cotswold Wildlife Park gave the birds another type of fever… the love bug!

 http://www.banburycake.co.uk/news/15241796.Avian_flu_restrictions_at_wildlife_park_gave_the_birds_another_type_of_fever___/

12 hrs ago / by Pete Hughes

LONG periods in close confinement can have strange effects on people, and, in the case of the birds at Cotswold Wildlife Park, the results were rather surprising.

Park keepers were forced to lock up hundreds of tropical and exotic birds in December under nationwide avian flu precautions issued by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

That meant Cotswold Wildlife Park, like farmers in Oxfordshire and across the county, had to keep all birds indoors until further notice.

When the restrictions were finally lifted this month park keepers started unlocking cages only to discover the long period in close quarters had seemingly created a romantic mood, and several species had begun breeding.

As a result the Bird Walkthrough at Cotswold’s Walled Garden, home to the scarlet ibis, Bali starlings and others will remain closed until further notice.

Curator Jamie Craig explained: “Following the news from Defra that avian influenza restrictions have now been lifted, the tropical house and lake area are once again open to visitors. We remain vigilant and are prepared to take action should the situation change.

“The Bird Walkthrough in the Walled Garden remains closed as several bird species started to breed during the time of the recent restrictions. As not to disturb the breeding birds at this delicate stage, the enclosure is currently closed but is fully visible to visitors.”

The avian flu restrictions came in after the disease was detected in more than 5,000 birds on a poultry farm near Louth in Lincolnshire.

It was the first confirmed case in Britain of the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain, which had already been circulating in countries across Europe, from Poland to France.

DEFRA announced on April 11 that all poultry was to be once again allowed out as of the 13th

UK chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said that while the H5N8 strain of bird flu which caused more than 1,000 outbreaks across Europe over winter may remain in the environment, the danger of cross-contamination had subsided.

A ban on gatherings of poultry, such as pure breed showings, remains in place until further notice.

It’s especially good timing for Cotswold Wildlife Park as the the new came just in time to celebrate World Penguin Day

Deadly new bird flu strain could lead to devastating pandemic

The Extinction Chronicles

VIEW SLIDESHOW

You probably haven’t thought about the bird flu in a couple of years, unless you’re a virologist, but a new strain that resurfaced in China has the potential to be pandemic. The H7N9 virus only caused mild illness in poultry until recently, but a genetic change means the new strain is deadly for birds. Now, H7N9 has led to more human deaths this season than any other season since it was detected in people four years ago

China, bird flu, avian flu, avian influenza, influenza, flu, virus, viruses, H7N9, H7N9 virus, chicken, chickens, bird, birds, health

Between September and March 1, 162 people perished from H7N9. Human cases have increased since December, with reports from eight different provinces in China. Hong Kong University research lab director Guan Yi told NPR, “We’re trying our best, but we still can’t control this virus. It’s too late for us to eradicate it.”

Related: U.S. avian flu outbreak drives up the price of eggs as supplies…

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Congress, WHO sound the alarm over pandemic avian flu in China

The Extinction Chronicles

House GOP chairman says cases underscore need for domestic plan

In this Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014, file photo, health workers in full protective gear collect dead chickens killed by using carbon dioxide, after bird flu was found in some birds at a wholesale poultry market in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Kin … more >
– The Washington Times – Friday, April 21, 2017

House Republicans sounded the alarm Friday over an avian flu threat that’s escalating in China, saying it underscores the need to finish and vet an overdue plan for responding to pandemic flu at home.

The H7N9 avian influenza virus mainly affects people who’ve been exposed to live poultry. It’s infected nearly 1,000 people in Asia and had a 40-percent fatality rate since its discovery in 2013, though the latest spurt of cases has been worse than previous ones, according to the World…

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WA lawmakers OK new way to deter wolves

http://www.capitalpress.com/Washington/20170420/wa-lawmakers-ok-new-way-to-deter-wolves

Washington lawmakers thrust Department of Agriculture into new campaign to prevent wolves from killing cattle in Ferry, Stevens, Okanogan and Pend Oreille counties.
Don JenkinsCapital Press

Published on April 20, 2017 9:11AM

Washington lawmakers thrust Department of Agriculture into new campaign to prevent wolves from killing cattle in Ferry, Stevens, Okanogan and Pend Oreille counties.

U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

Washington lawmakers thrust Department of Agriculture into new campaign to prevent wolves from killing cattle in Ferry, Stevens, Okanogan and Pend Oreille counties.

OLYMPIA — A bill creating a new program to prevent wolves from attacking livestock in northeast Washington has been sent by lawmakers to Gov. Jay Inslee.

House Bill 2126 directs the state Department of Agriculture and conservation district board members in Ferry, Okanogan, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties to oversee the awarding of money to nonprofit groups to protect herds, including by hiring range riders. The groups would be required to consult with resource agencies such as the Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service.

HB 2126 proponents hope locally organized efforts to prevent depredations will be efficient and gain acceptance among producers.

“It needs to be a community-based approach where ranchers up here are largely steering the boat,” said Jay Shepherd of Conservation Northwest, an environmental group active in wolf recovery.

The program would be in addition to WDFW’s depredation-prevention program. Some ranchers have been reluctant to enter into formal agreements with WDFW.

The bill would assign to the state agriculture department for the first time a role in reducing livestock losses to wolves. WSDA stayed neutral on the bill because it wasn’t in the governor’s budget proposal, but will carry out the legislation if signed by Inslee, a department spokesman said.

The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously. It’s unknown how much money would be available to deploy new deterrence measures. The Legislature has not set aside money to fund the program. The bill creates an account in which grants, donations and state appropriations can be deposited.

“This is an important bill that will help us resolve the issue in wolf country,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Aberdeen Democrat Brian Blake, chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. “It creates a pot to put contributions into to help fund the efforts to keep wolves and people and livestock separate.”

Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen, who’s also vice president of the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association, said he liked the bill’s intent to involve local residents in making decisions.

But he said that he feared a new program could be used to justify delaying lethal removal of wolves in some cases. Ranchers who have lost livestock to wolves were using non-lethal deterrence measures, he said.

“We already know it has real limited effects,” Nielsen said. “I don’t know that there needs to be more money thrown at it.”

The Department of Fish and Wildlife, which manages wolves, supported the bill.

“We think this is a good approach because it is community based and will increase the uptake of these tools and help reduce the loss of livestock and ultimately the loss of wolves,” WDFW wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said.