PETA says factory-farm filth is behind Bird Flu outbreak

Group has revealed shocking reality and filth in the poultry farms in the North-Eastern state.

Mumbai, Maharashtra, December 10, 2008 /India PRwire/ -- Guwahati – In the midst of a severe outbreak of avian flu, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India will release graphic undercover video footage of crowded and filthy chicken and egg factory farms along with a report linking these conditions to the outbreak. Leading health experts – including those at the UN – blame unhygienic conditions for the spread of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu. The report documents the scalding, starvation and mutilation of birds as well as the potential for the spread of disease from chickens to humans.

Filthy and unhygienic conditions on factory farms can lead to repeated outbreaks of bird flu. In 2007, Indian health officials confirmed a bird flu outbreak among poultry in the northeastern state of Manipur. In January, five people in India were quarantined because of bird flu symptoms. According to the World Health Organization, out of the 342 registered cases of the H5N1 strain of bird flu, 211 people in 13 countries have died so far. Factory farms with structures such as broiler sheds and battery hen warehouses virtually invite the virus to strike. Because of the intensive confinement of the animals, the deadly virus can spread like wildfire. Humans who handle infected birds can catch bird flu, and experts fear that the virus will eventually mutate into a form that is transmissible from human to human, which could set off a catastrophic worldwide pandemic. Outbreaks of bird flu every year waste public money as crores and crores are disbursed as compensation. According to Health Minister A Ramadoss, the government paid more than $19,47,619 as compensation for poultry and feed in 2006, and more than $2,23,810 was paid for birds culled in the 2007 outbreak.

Because of the filthy and cramped conditions that chickens raised for meat and eggs are forced to endure – including being scalded to death in contaminated defeathering tanks – diseases are rampant. According to www.environmentaldefense.org, "Antibiotics are routinely fed to healthy livestock and poultry to make them gain weight faster and to compensate for unsanitary living conditions". According to researcher Malati Puranik, who conducted a study of chickens sold all over Mumbai, "[W]e realised that poultry sold under such unhygienic conditions is a serious health hazard. Pathogens such as campylobacter and salmonella proliferate, causing severe bacterial contamination". During the evisceration process, chicken carcasses easily become contaminated with faecal material when the intestines are cut or torn and the contents leak out during extraction.

In 2005, approximately 2 billion "broiler" chickens were slaughtered in India. These birds are crammed by the tens of thousands into dark, filthy sheds, where the ammonia from the chickens' accumulated waste burns their eyes. According to Dr Vandana Shiva, modern "meat chickens" are pushed to reach their slaughter weight in just 40 to 42 days, and typically the supporting structure of legs, heart and lungs fails to keep pace with the rapidly growing body, leading to problems such as congestive heart failure and ascites – a pooling of body fluids in the abdomen. For many birds, leg problems are so severe that they are unable to reach food and water. During transportation to slaughter – which involves long rides in all weather extremes – broken bones commonly occur. After they arrive at abattoirs, chickens are rapidly shackled and hung by their feet from conveyors in mechanised slaughterhouses. Many are dumped into scalding-hot defeathering tanks while still conscious. At small butcher shops, chickens have their throats cut on the floor or the butcher's block in unhygienic conditions while other birds watch.

Life for egg-laying hens is equally miserable. Millions spend their entire lives confined to tiny "battery" cages in huge factory warehouses which contain as many as 1,500 to 2,000 cages, each holding six to seven birds, who are packed together so tightly they cannot even stretch a wing. Chicks who are 9 days old have their sensitive beaks cut off with a searing-hot blade in a process called debeaking. Hens lose their feathers as a result of stress and constant rubbing against the wire cages; their bodies become covered with bruises, abrasions and boils.

In its report, PETA suggests that the chicken industry improve the conditions in which birds are grown and killed. The group believes that this much is owed to the birds because of how inhumanely they are currently treated. The report has a copy of the welfare standards recommended by the UK's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) for laying hens and pullets, hatcheries (for layer and broiler chicks) and chickens. These should be used as the most basic of guidelines by the poultry industry. The government blamed Bangladesh for the spread of bird flu when the disease struck the northeastern state of Tripura early this year.

"The government is wrong to shift the blame to other countries for the outbreak of bird flu when conditions on their own farms are pathetic", said PETA's campaign coordinator Nikunj Sharma. "Chickens are social and sensitive birds who deserve basic respect. Implementing simple welfare standards would improve conditions on factory farms and the lives of chickens – though, the only certain way to safeguard our own health and stop the abuse of chickens is to go vegetarian."

The full 40-page report is available upon request. For more information, please visit www.PETAIndia.com.

Notes to Editor

We are an Animal Rights Organisation based in Mumbai in India.

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