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  • Three large egg-producing states in the US are in the midst of an avian flu outbreak. Iowa declared a state of emergency on May 1. Minnesota and Wisconsin declared states of emergency last month
  • It’s estimated that 25 percent of all chickens in Iowa have been infected, and millions of chickens and turkeys in the three states have already been killed in an effort to contain the disease
  • The confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) model virtually guarantees drug resistance and out-of-control spread of disease, both among animals and humans
 

Avian Flu Outbreak Among Chickens—What This Disaster Can Tell Us About Our Food Production

May 19, 2015 | 218,711 views
| Available in EspañolDisponible en Español

By Dr. Mercola

Three large egg-producing states in the US are in the midst of an avian flu outbreak. Iowa—where about 20 percent of all US eggs are produced—declared a state of emergency on May 1.1

Minnesota and Wisconsin declared states of emergency last month, and dozens of countries have imposed partial or total bans on US poultry.

It's estimated that 25 percent of all chickens in Iowa have been infected,2 and millions of chickens and turkeys in the three states have already been killed in an effort to contain the disease.

According to Reuters:3

"Iowa officials started receiving noticepur about an outbreak of the virus beginning on April 21. The pathogen is highly contagious for turkeys, chickens, and other poultry. While it's not a threat to humans, it can lead to high costs over the loss of livestock and property, and quickly exhaust local emergency responses..."

CAFOs Are a Constant Threat to Health

This outbreak is really not surprising. In fact, it's exactly what you can expect when you dramatically disrupt the natural order of things, and produce food under wholly unnatural circumstances.

Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are major warehouse-style growing facilities where animals are crowded together by the thousands, or in the case of chickens, tens of thousands.

These animals are fed a completely unnatural diet of glyphosate-containing genetically engineered (GE) grains mixed with antibiotics—a surefire recipe for drug resistance and out-of-control spread of disease, both among animals and humans.

This problem is certainly not restricted to chicken CAFOs. The same applies to cattle and hog farms as well. As an example, hog farmers are six times more likely than the general population to carry drug-resistant Staph bacteria.4

In this case, two different strains of avian influenza have been detected in chicken CAFOs across the US. The H5N2 strain is circulating in Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin, while the H5N8 strain is found in California and in Idaho.

And, while there are safeguards in place to contain deadly disease outbreaks from spreading, poultry veterinarians note that those strategies appear to have failed, as the influenza managed to spread across 14 states in five months.

Amy Mayer, an Iowa Public Radio reporter told PBS5 that scientists are still struggling to figure out how the outbreak was able to spread as widely as it has. "They thought they had a pretty decent understanding of how this virus could spread, but the way it is moving right now has really caused them to rethink some of those ideas..." she says.

Reuters6 also noted that:

"Wild birds are thought to be carriers of the flu virus, which can be tracked onto poultry farms by people or trucks that come into contact with contaminated feces. It may also be carried into barns by wind blowing in contaminated dirt or dust.

US and state officials had thought that quarantining infected farms and killing birds would prevent the virus from moving to neighboring farms.

However, veterinarians now think the disease was transmitted between farms... If confirmed, a lateral spread 'would represent a failure in biosecurity,' said John Glisson, vice president of Research for the US Poultry and Egg Association."

Factory Farmed Foods Responsible for Most Foodborne Outbreaks

US authorities are very heavy-handed when it comes to "protecting" you from unadulterated organic foods, such as raw milk and artisan cheeses, ostensibly because such foods have not been processed to the point that any and all microbes have been eradicated.

Sterile equates to "safe," is the general idea, yet nothing could be further from the truth.

The focus on eradicating microbes from our food supply and our immediate environment, including our bodies, has led to dramatic changes in the microbiome of Americans, and the health ramifications of this runs the gamut from obesity to an increased risk for most chronic diseases.

Scientists have now realized that we need microbes to stay healthy, slim, and mentally well-adjusted. And animals need them too, in order to stay healthy, and therein lies the problem.

CAFOs are notorious for routinely administering antibiotics (which indiscriminately kill both beneficial and pathogenic bacteria) to the animals in order to keep them well enough for slaughter. Antibiotics also make the animals grow fatter, faster, which is another reason for their use.

Regardless of the justification, the end result is the same. Indiscriminate use of antibiotics in agriculture has led to the rise of antibiotic resistance that now claims the lives of 23,000 Americans each year.

It also reduces the animals' overall immune function and health, which ultimately equates to an inferior food product, compared to eating a truly healthy, organically raised specimen.

Despite the fact that CAFOs are responsible for virtually all foodborne outbreaks, the US government keeps protecting this model of food production.

As reported by Oregon Live,7 several hundred people have been struck with severe food poisoning over the course of a decade by chicken originating from Foster Farms.

"State officials pushed federal regulators to act, but salmonella-tainted chicken flowed into grocery stores, first in the Northwest, then across the country. Oregon investigators became so familiar with the culprit they gave it a name: the Foster Farms strain," the article states, noting that the USDA repeatedly chose not to warn the public or issue a recall of Foster Farm's tainted chicken.

It almost seems as though CAFOs are "too big to bust," and instead it's the tiny mom-and-pop artisan food makers that get raided at gunpoint over some potential food safety issue, just so the image of "food safety" can be maintained...

Sterilizing Food Does Not Make Unsafe Food Much Safer...

Non-organic foods are also typically sterilized before making their way to your local grocery store, either through pasteurization, irradiation, or antimicrobial chlorine baths, just to name a few of the available procedures.

Despite such precautions, you still have a 50/50 chance of buying meat tainted with drug-resistant bacteria when you buy it from your local grocery store. In some cases, the risk may be even greater. Using data collected by the federal agency called NARMS (National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System), testing by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) revealed antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 81 percent of ground turkey, 69 percent of pork chops, 55 percent of ground beef, and 39 percent of raw chicken.

In the US, nine million people get sick from foodborne illness each year.8 While meats tend to top the list of offenders, conventionally grown veggies are also responsible for their fair share of foodborne illness, and the reason for this is also traceable right back to CAFOs.

CAFOs collect the animals' waste in massive open-air cesspits, the runoff from which can contaminate water used to irrigate crops elsewhere. That's how a deadly fecal pathogen like E. coli O157:H7 can end up contaminating spinach for example. Putting sludge originating from CAFOs as fertilizer on crop fields is another route of exposure.

Why Organic Standards Might Be Corrupted

CAFO-procured dung is also becoming a problem within the organic community, as the standards allow organic farmers to spread manure on their fields—without regard for where that manure came from. It's one thing to spread manure from grass-fed cattle on your organic fields; another to douse it with manure from cattle whose excrement is teeming with drugs and potentially drug-resistant bacteria.

On April 28, 2015, organic rancher Nancy Utesch read the following statement (reprinted here in part) to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in LaJolla, California:

"My husband and I are farmers raising 100 percent grass-fed beef on our 150 acre farm in Kewaunee, Wisconsin. Sitting... on the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline, my once vibrant community now is home to 15 industrial mega-farms, known as CAFOs... When community members gather where I live, we talk manure; its make-up and its management.

Being subjected to the massive amounts of CAFO wastes generated where I live has made me seriously question the practice of organic standards allowing CAFO wastes spread on organic ground and crops. This dirty secret in organics must be stopped and the sooner the better!

These wastes are full of BGH, antibiotics, hormones, copper sulfates, pesticide residues, GMO residues, chemical barn cleaners, pharmaceuticals, and possibly municipal wastes. Where I live, industrial waste is included.

This industrial waste comes from rendering facilities, mink ranch, and slaughterhouse wastes of blood, hair, and paunch (the stomach and intestine wastes of slaughtered animals), cheese wastes heavy in chlorides, cattle truck wash, lime slurry, and a myriad of other things combined to make a toxic soup--delivered weekly by the tons to farmers and landowners -- who receive a tipping fee for taking these wastes. Very little oversight takes place with these wastes, which are self-monitored and logged.

These types of wastes carry with them the threats of pathogens, endocrine-disrupting compounds, and a general make-up that is harmful to human health and our soils... In 2013 research from the National wildlife Health Center in Madison revealed that 'Prions, the infectious deformed proteins that cause chronic wasting disease in deer--can be taken up by plants such as alfalfa, corn, and tomatoes.'

Living in a CAFO community, I find the notion... of the spreading of CAFO wastes on food deemed organic beyond an oxymoron--it is OFFENSIVE. Obviously the uptake of these crops, feeding on CAFO wastes, affects the quality of the food and its status... [It] is NOT organic!

The unhappy marriage and unhealthy relationship of these two diversely different farming methods needs to be divorced... My trust in organics is the reason I am willing to pay premium prices for food I consider medicine. I find the use of industrialized farm wastes used in growing organic foods a real breach of trust and integrity in the organic standards."

An Organic Regenerative Food System Is a Far Safer Food System

The root of all these food safety issues is the manner in which the majority of our food is raised and grown. Agricultural giants tried to "better" what nature came up with, and the system is failing miserably. Now, the bird flu is obviously caused by a virus, and viruses are not directly affected by antibiotics, so I'm not suggesting that the use of antibiotics caused these lethal viruses to emerge. What I am suggesting is that the use of antibiotics—in combination with the large-scale confinement model—diminishes the birds' immune function, leaving them more susceptible to disease, such as the avian flu.

When they're cramped together by the tens of thousands, it's certainly no wonder that a virus can take out an entire farm in no time at all. Compounding the problem is the fact that CAFOs produce tremendous amounts of waste, which allows microbes—be they drug-resistant bacteria or lethal viruses—to spread through the environment, traveling via wind, water, and wild animals to neighboring farms.

In short, CAFOs create a negative feedback loop where safety hazards are compounded and spread around, affecting animals, humans, and the environment in equal measure.

The CAFO model virtually ensures that any breakout will be as extensive and widespread as possible. Food safety will undoubtedly remain elusive until or unless we change the way we grow and raise our food, meaning we need to revert back to that which actually works—a system where nature itself maintains a healthy balance with minimal input from manmade drugs, chemicals, and genetic tinkering.

Tyson Vows to Phase Out Antibiotics... Sort of

As reported by Civil Eats,9 Tyson Foods has announced it will strive to eliminate antibiotics from its American operations by September 2017. Perdue and Pilgrim's Pride have made similar vows:

"Together these companies produce about a third of the US chicken supply. It's part of a trend that has seen restaurant chains like McDonald's, Chipotle, Panera, and Chick-fil-A pledge to go antibiotic-free... The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has been campaigning to stop the overuse of antibiotics in farming for years, has called this 'the tipping point for getting the chicken industry off antibiotics.'"

The article does bring up a few considerations though. While these promises are indeed welcome, the US government does not oversee antibiotic use in livestock, so we're left to rely on the company's own self-reporting. A black spot marring Tyson's reputation for honesty is noted in the article:

"Tyson claimed to be producing antibiotic-free chicken in 2008, then was ordered by a federal court10 to change the label after the USDA found that the claims were false."

Tyson also has poultry operations in Mexico, China, and India, and the company has made no mention of addressing the use of antibiotics in those chickens. So is the industry really going to tackle this problem without regulation, or are promises such as these just another PR stunt to soothe our fears? According to Civil Eats:

"Ultimately, Tyson's announcement doesn't mean that the company will stop using antibiotics entirely, either. It may still use drugs important to humans to treat sick chickens. McDonald's and Tyson are also still allowing for the use of ionophores, an animal antibiotic that doctors don't prescribe to humans. In other words, many of the practices that make chickens sick to begin with may remain the same."

Wholesome Food Resources

I believe the movement toward sustainable food and ethical meat is very important, both in terms of human health and animal welfare. Organic, grass-fed and finished meat, raised without antibiotics and other growth-promoting drugs is really the only type of meat that is healthy to eat, in my view. The following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods in your local area that has been raised in a humane and sustainable manner:

  • Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
  • Eat Wild -- With more than 1,400 pasture-based farms, Eatwild's Directory of Farms is one of the most comprehensive sources for grass-fed meat and dairy products in the United States and Canada.
  • Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
  • Eat Well Guide: Wherever you are, Eat Well -- The Guide is a free online directory of more than 25,000 restaurants, farms, stores, farmers' markets, CSAs, and other sources of local, sustainably produced food throughout the US.
  • FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.

When looking for antibiotic-free meat, it's best to familiarize yourself with the various labels11 currently in use, as some are useful, while others can be downright deceptive:

100% USDA Organic label offers excellent assurance that antibiotics have not been used at any stage of production.
"No antibiotics administered" and similar labels also offer high assurance that antibiotics have not been used, especially if accompanied by a "USDA process Verified" shield.
"Grass-fed" label coupled with USDA Organic label means no antibiotics have been used, but if the "grass-fed" label appears alone, antibiotics may have been given.
"American Grass-fed" and "Food Alliance Grass-fed" labels indicate that in addition to having been raised on grass, the animal in question received no antibiotics.
The following three labels: "Antibiotic-free," "No antibiotic residues," and "No antibiotic growth promotants," have not been approved by the USDA and may be misleading if not outright fraudulent.
"Natural" or "All-Natural" is completely meaningless and has no bearing on whether or not the animal was raised according to organic principles. "Natural" meat and poultry products can by law receive antibiotics, hormones, and genetically engineered grains, and can be raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

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