In the past, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has been one of the leading proponent of the view that wild birds were carrying and spreading the H5N1 avian influenza virus. A new 24 Heures interview (in French) with Samuel Jutzi of the FAO shows that UN officials are beginning to question the role of wild birds in carrying the H5N1 bird flu virus around the world, and is now looking more seriously at the role of the global poultry industry.
Here's a slightly edited English Babel Fish Translation:
The H5N1 will support the chicken factories
INTERVIEW Switzerland Samuel Jutzi is one of the directors of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It analyzes the consequences of avian influenza for the poultry producers and consumers.
Published on March 13, 2006
(Photo caption: Samuel Jutzi, economist trained with l’EPFZ, joined the FAO in 1999)
At the head office of the FAO in Rome, Samuel Jutzi, directs the division of livestock health and production, which is on the front lines of the battle against the H5N1 virus that FAO is carrying out on the ground, mainly in countries deprived of effective veterinary services.
- How did this epidemic become so extensive?
- It is still a mystery! Frankly, when the disease was recently first discovered in ten countries at practically the same time, it was a surprise. One thought of the migratory birds but, at the time, their routes did not correspond to the expansion of the disease. Today, it is supposed that it is the poultry trade which propagated the disease at its beginnings in Asia.
- And elsewhere in the world?
- last year, we again assumed that migratory birds were extending the disease towards the west, but there are still many uncertainties. As for the arrival of the disease in Nigeria, the most probable assumption, it is that of illegal poultry imports, even if the migrating ones perhaps also played a part.
- Why does trade play does such a part in the propagation of avian influenza?
- Quite simply because the poultry sector became a sector globalized par excellence! Over the last twenty years, in the whole world, the industry has seen spectacular growth and become incredibly industrialized. The volume of global trade continues to increase. For this reason the poultry trade explains in good part the expansion of the disease, in spite of strict medical rules on a world level.
- And its origin? Does mass production offer a ground favorable to the virus?
- Not. It is necessary to distinguish between the density of poultries in an area and the number of poultries in the industrial companies. These last can be protected effectively from the viruses. Actually applied, the safety requirements of these complexes offer a high degree of protection. For a virus, the best conditions of development they are the family breedings with a strong density of poultries.
- A to hear you, the future they are the chicken factories…
- There is D E any manner a tendency to industrialization encouraged by the economy. In Europe, the near total of the production is done already in an intensive way, the developing countries follow the same evolution. The current bird flu outbreaks will accelerate the movement since poultry can be better protected in these protected artificial environments. Other side of the coin: there will be fewer bird breeds and that will lead to the standardization.
- And farm chickens? Will they soon be nothing more than a pleasant memory?
- No, but this type of production will be a small minority. The poultries of great quality, raised in the open air and nourished with grain will become niche products. In Europe, one wants to continue to produce them, but for that it is necessary to find the means of protecting them from disease outbreaks. This is one reason why France is trying out targeted vaccinations in certain areas. Because it is known that after this bird flu is spread across the planet, there will be other disease outbreaks. In a globalized world, it is difficult to escape from it.
While this interview shows the FAO considering poultry shipments as a greater risk than migratory birds, it also shows the agency as hesitant to take on industrial poultry production. Their claims that backyard poultry production may be at greatest risk fly in the face of the recent GRAIN report. So, while this seems to be a step in the right direction, agricultural experts still seem unwilling to question the true nature of the H5N1 threat as a disease created and propagated by the globalization of the industrial poultry industry.