H5N8 bird flu has made the leap to humans--what's next?
Looking forward to the end of the pandemic? Me too.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The pandemic isn't over yet.
Even as so many humans have died and others have been left disabled from the zoonotic virus we now know as COVID, the animal agriculture industry has churned along as usual. And even though slaughterhouses have proven over and over again to be COVID hotspots that spread the virus throughout communities, the machine has refused to slow down, with managers even going so far as to bet on the lives of their workers. (Just one of the countless examples of how the abuse of non-human and human animals is intimately entangled!) Though it has long been obvious that raising billions of miserable animals in crowded, filthy conditions is the perfect way to create a pandemic, calls to 'end to factory farming' have at last become amplified, with scientists, politicians and activists all over the world voicing their concerns. This is a positive thing, no doubt, though some of these campaigns imply (or even outright state) that 'small, local animal farming' is an acceptable way to exploit non-human animals. (There is no right way to kill someone who doesn't want to die.)
We have written twice on the issue of avian flu (links at the bottom) which scientists say represents a much greater threat than even COVID, predicting that the next pandemic is likely to emerge from a poultry farm or a pig farm. For example, the 1918 Spanish Flu, the deadliest pandemic in recorded history, killed 50 million people and was traced back to a chicken farm in rural America.
The world has had plenty of warning--H5N8 has been spreading across the avian world for several months, resulting in the deaths of millions of birds, both wild and domestic. Meanwhile, it seems, we have learnt nothing, choosing to 'manage' the virus by killing warehouses full of millions of chickens and ducks. And of course, 'free range' birds--who very frequently don't have access to the outdoors anyway--have been completely denied any right to roam. And now Russia has announced that H5N8 has made the leap to humans. Thus far it has yet to achieve human-to-human transmission, and Anna Popova, Russia's consumer health watchdog, has stated confidently that 'the discovery of these mutations when the virus has not still acquired an ability to transmit from human to human gives us all, the entire world, time to prepare for possible mutations and react in an adequate and timely fashion.'
Any possibility that much needed preparation includes ending the confinement and slaughter of 50 billion chickens a year? No?