Avian Flu Spreads to Workers at Chicken Farm in Russia
The chickens arrived on semi trucks, crammed into multi-level cages stacked on top of one another. When I was an undercover investigator, I worked out on the loading docks for a few days, helping undo the straps holding the cages down. Forklifts would then lift each cage, bring it to a funnel above a conveyor belt, and unceremoniously dump the birds out hundreds at a time.
The belts fed into the live hang room, where I worked most days. The birds piled up on the belt, two or three birds on top of one another, forming a gigantic, wriggling mass. The workers thrust their hands into this mass, feeling ideally for a leg to grab onto. Most weren’t picky and would grab a wing or neck just as readily. Once in hand, the chicken’s legs would be jammed into shackles passing above the belt. Our goal was shackling 24 birds a minute.
At the time, I thought mainly about the pain the birds must be going through, as well as the pain in my back and my own swollen hands, knuckles inflamed from holding the bony legs of thousands of birds a day.
Years later and now caught in the grip of a pandemic caused by a disease that spread from animals to humans, known as a zoonotic disease, my mind is on something else. I saw these birds piled together just before slaughter. Yet they were kept in similar conditions their whole lives. It is standard practice to pack tens of thousands of stressed, unhealthy birds together in a single barn. I think of how easy it would be for diseases to spread amongst a captive population like that. If any of those diseases were a danger to humans, we could be in for the same kind of trouble we’re experiencing now.
We already know of diseases that come from some of the most commonly farmed animals. Avian flu, salmonella, swine flu, mad cow disease and others easily spread at factory farms, where animals are housed in crowded, unsanitary conditions with little — or sometimes no — veterinary care. For diseases that can then move to humans, the workers on farms are potential hosts. These new hosts then step off farms, spreading disease in their communities.
Three out of four new or emerging diseases are zoonotic. New strains are discovered regularly. Recently, the first case of the H5N8 strain of avian flu transmission to humans was discovered. Seven workers on a chicken farm in Russia were infected after an outbreak of the strain among the birds in December. Though the infected workers suffered no negative effects, researchers also said that flu viruses evolve quickly and the “draconian measures” would be necessary to stop the strain from spreading.
These measures usually involve the killing of entire flocks. During a 2014-2015 outbreak of bird flu in the U.S., 50 million chickens and turkeys were either lost to the virus or killed to curb its spread. Our insistence as a society on exploiting animals for our own use brings us into contact with zoonotic diseases and leads to the suffering of both humans and animals. Instead of breeding and killing all of these sentient beings when diseases eventually threaten, we can avoid these situations entirely by choosing plant-based meals instead.
You can get started now. Visit tryveg.com for hundreds of delicious plant-based recipes as well as tips, information and more. And join us for VegWeek, which takes place this year from April 19-25. Take the VegPledge today. Why wait? Together, we can make every week VegWeek.[simple-author-box]
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