Factory farming aggravates Korea’s bird flu outbreaks: OECD report


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Published : 2017-06-20 15:20
Updated : 2017-06-20 17:42

The poor breeding conditions at poultry farms in South Korea may have accelerated the spread of the bird flu virus, said a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

According to the report titled “OECD Producer Incentives in Livestock Disease Management: Korea Case Study,” battery cage-facilities at poultry farms and stockbreeding farmhouses have made worse the bird flu damage and fast spread of a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu in recent decades.

Such facilities, made up of rows and columns of identical cages connected together like cells, can house millions of birds, but hens spend their entire lives in the cages with a floor space about the size of a sheet of A4 paper.

Health authorities in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province quarantine a chicken farm on June 3, 2017, after a suspected case of avian influenza was reported. (Yonhap)

Since early this month, the government has been grappling with a fresh outbreak of bird flu and 185,000 chickens have been culled so far as part of containment measures.

South Korea’s livestock industry has expanded rapidly since the 1990s. The proportion of the agriculture industry’s output accounted for by the livestock industry shot up from 23 percent in 1995 to 42 percent in 2015.

Livestock diseases have continued to reoccur in battery cage-facilities, which were used at poultry farms here to expand stockbreeding farmhouses, the report said.

The report also warned that the government lacks awareness and measures to strengthen farming facility management in the country.

Governmental support in terms of direct compensation of small livestock holders related to livestock epidemics should be implemented, the report said.

Although the bird flu virus has been a constant issue since last year, the South Korean government has not offered clear reasons for the worsening situation, blaming migratory birds instead.

Experts and animal rights activists have been demanding that the authorities come up with regulatory improvements in Korea’s overall poultry farming systems and upgrade quarantine measures.

Professor Kim Jae-hong of Seoul National University’s College of Veterinary Medicine said that “it would be strange if the virus does not spread in such a filthy environment. Damage (from the bird flue outbreak) could have been minimized if there was an upgrade in farming systems that provides a healthy environment for poultry breeding, considering animal health and welfare.”

Developed countries in Europe, where most stockbreeding farms have abandoned conventional battery cages for animal welfare reasons, have seen a low percentage of bird flu outbreaks.

In 2012, the European Union Council banned the use of battery cages after scientists observed signs of extremely abnormal behaviors in caged hens. The number of eggs produced in battery cage-facilities in the EU has rapidly decreased since then.

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)


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