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The Crisis in BC's Chicken Industry

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</P> The recent poultry crisis in BC has been in the making for decades, despite the warnings of some of the world's most highly respected scientists. The world refused to heed these warnings..

The seeds of the crisis were sown the moment antibiotics were introduced to the world.

The recent poultry crisis in BC has been in the making for decades, despite the warnings of some of the world's most highly respected scientists. The world refused to heed these warnings.

In 1948, scientists at both the University of California at Berkeley and Lederle Laboratories in the US were looking for ways to hasten growth in chickens. The "breakthrough" came with the accidental discovery that traces of the antibiotic chlortetracycline in the residue of mash proved a "cheap and readily available growth source." After only 24 days of eating the mash, the chicks were almost three times the size of other chicks! The chlortetracycline later proved to be equally effective for speeding growth in cattle and hogs. The agriculture industry grabbed onto it. Farmers bought into it. Universities taught it in faculties of agriculture. They dubbed it "growth factor." Why bother with further studies?

"In a very short time this discovery became the biggest boon ever to livestock and poultry production...turning it into a multibillion dollar industry…but it turned out to be a bane to the health of the world," wrote Dr Jeffrey A Fisher, MD in The Plague Makers (Simon & Schuster, 1994).

The first outbreak of so-called "avian flu" was in Hong Kong in 1997. Similar epidemics occurred in South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, the Netherlands, and the US. Different strains of the highly pathogenic viral disease emerged in other countries. It hit home in Canada in April of this year. Flocks in BC's Lower Fraser Valley started dying by the thousands. The alarm sounded and 19 million chickens, turkeys, geese, ostriches, pigeons, and exotic birds were ordered destroyed. Conventional chicken farmers wrung their hands but bowed to the inevitable. British Columbia's Premier promised aid. The need for "biosecurity" was the cry - but what does that mean?

Organic farmers in BC's Lower Fraser Valley pointed to the conventional farmers' "common industry practices" as probable causes of the epidemic: close-packed birds, population density in the area, and no genetic diversification to promote disease resistance.

Dead birds were incinerated or composted and the lucrative poultry industry was brought to a temporary standstill. Newspapers created hysteria because headlines sell papers. The World Health Organization raised the "global pandemic preparedness level" from 0.1 to 0.2.

No one mentioned antibiotics and growth hormones.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ordered farmers to disinfect barns, farm equipment, and their clothing and start again with a new batch of chicks that they hoped would mature quickly for market - with the aid of "growth factor," of course.

They'll never learn, folks, unless we show the way. Demand organically-grown poultry, meat, fruit, grain, and vegetables. Demonstrate your decision at the cash register.

The price will come down.

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