The conditions intensively reared chickens live in are ideal for a new pandemic, leading researchers have warned. According to a report by Professor Veterinarian Andrew Knight and Professor Physician David Wiebers, the “cocktail” of infections bird face on a day to day basis creates a breeding ground for a disease outbreak. Bird flu is highly transmissible, so it would make Covid-19 seem mild by comparisons.
The need to drive costs down to meet the prices supermarket chains will pay means chicken farmers are keeping their brood in overcrowded cages. The proximity of the birds means disease spreads quickly. There’s also evidence they use breeds that were engineered to grow rapidly, known as “frankenchickens”. They are “unable to ward off infection when it strikes” because their immune systems haven’t developed sufficiently.
The scientists behind the report, A British Pandemic: The Cruelty and Danger of Supermarket Chicken, believe this pandemic will hit Britain hard as nearly a billon meat chickens are reared in the UK each year. It’s the country’s most farmed land animal. According to animal welfare groups, most UK-bred chickens are selectively bred, so they grow to 28st at just three years old.
The report was prepared for animal charity Open Cages claims that its warning is rational and realistic because, “Bird flu was once a sporadic disease among chickens, but today outbreaks are occurring every year.” In the past 50 years, the potential for a pandemic has quadrupled. Back in 2007, the World Health Organisation warned that infectious diseases were emerging rapidly and more frequently than ever before. The trend continues. The H7N9 bird flu strain has caused 1,568 cases in humans and 616 deaths across the world since 2013. When compared with the numbers generated by Covid-19, that seems mild, but what if we faced multiple strains simultaneously?
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