Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bird Flu Madness

Oprah on bird flu: Enough to scare you good, but that's about all
by Pamela Rice

I happened to watch Oprah this past Tuesday (January 24) and oh boy!
Her topic, BIRD FLU; her guest, DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, an infectious-disease expert from the University of Minnesota. The message was as dire as any I've ever heard on commercial television.

To Oprah's credit, she said she wanted to do anything she could to engender awareness about the potentially apocalyptic results of a bird-flu pandemic—the virtually inevitable catastrophe referred to on the show as second only to nuclear war in deadly consequences. Unfortunately, her show merely served to scare the heebie-jeebies out of her viewers, and she ended up neglecting to note the most important fact associated with the terrifying scenarios put forth.

Click HERE for Oprah's bird flu Web site.

Three things about the show should be deeply troubling to vegetarians who hold a food-politics perspective.
FIRST, when Oprah's guest was asked if people should stop eating chicken, not a nanosecond went by than Dr. Osterholm emphatically stated no, not at all. I seem to recall he also said something to the effect that chicken is a fine food, nutritious, even.

SECOND, Dr. Osterholm then went on to say that the problem is not chicken (the food) or chickens (the animals), per se, it was that in Asian countries poultry are raised outdoors. He didn't have time to explain to the audience his reasoning, but it is the current industry view that Western-style methods of chicken production need to be incorporated throughout Asia. Indoors, the animals are protected from disease carried by migratory birds. Also, when birds are contained, controls in the form of culling programs and biosecurity can be implemented more systematically as well. When you have free ranging animals you also have less control over manure runoff. Not only a threat to waterways, manure presents a ready-made vector for disease.
Alas, factory farming is the solution to bird flu, or at least it could have been. But now it's too late; the deadly H5N1 strain is of course spreading wildly and threatening to mutate into an agent of worldwide pandemic.

Oprah gave no challenge to the doctor's assessment of chicken or to his solution to the problem of bird flu, however cryptic. She elicited no deeper understanding about the causes of bird flu. Then again, would she dare question the profit-driven, meat-industry viewpoint again? My guess is she was consciously worried about another lawsuit, one such as that famously brought against her in 1998 by Texas cattlemen when, on one of her shows, she disparaged eating beef? Remember her spontaneous resolution: "I'm never eating a hamburger again."?

Incidentally, Dr. Osterholm noted on air that when the great 1918 influenza pandemic occurred there were vastly fewer poultry birds in Asia than there are today. He explained that in that year, when roughly a hundred million people perished as a result of the scourge, there were only 12 million chickens in Asia at the time. Today, 13 billion chickens inhabit Asia, making a flu pandemic all the more likely.

Furthermore, he noted that the common flu for which people get their yearly flu shot kills 36,000 people around the globe every year. Osterholm brought this fact to light simply to distinguish common flus from those that cause pandemics.

THIRD, and I believe the most troubling aspect of the show for vegetarians: There was no mention of vegetarianism as a solution to the current bird-flu crisis. There was no mention that influenza—whatever the type—would not exist but for the domestication of poultry, period. There was no mention that influenza, one of the deadliest pathogens the world has known, would not exist in a vegetarian world.

I leave you with one of the more dismal statements in Oprah's bird-flu Web site. I hope all vegetarians agree, we need to be more vocal on this issue.... We may not get such a deadly strain of bird flu, but as for completely escaping another pandemic, Dr. Osterholm says, "This is not a probability issue, it's going to happen. What we don't know is which strain it's going to be or when it's going to happen. It could be tonight. It could be 10 years from now. The bottom line is we have a lot to do to get better prepared." In conclusion, I say let's take the "pan" out of pandemic and put it in front of the word "vegetarian." "Pan-vegetarian." There. That's more like it.

Click for more on BIRD FLU at Pamela's "101 Reasons..." page

No comments: