Archive for biosecurity

Business as Unusual

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2016 by rgwallace

Chicken in a business suit

John Huston told me he and [Orson] Welles were always trying to stick each other with the tab and once faked simultaneous heart attacks at a restaurant in Paris. –Jim Harrison (1988)

Some of you here in the Twin Cities may have noticed this past year the Star Tribune, the Minneapolis paper, has published almost its entire run of articles on the outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N2 in its business section.

The placement is telling. It reminds us the paper, owned by agribusinessman Glen Taylor, views the virus, killing 50 million poultry across 21 states, as a matter for food companies and investors. It seems the ecologies and epidemiologies in which we are all embedded are to be treated as mere externalities to the matter at hand–the trade in commodities.

An update last week, published–where else?–in the business section, reprinted unsupported declarations about the origins of the outbreak, claims the newspaper turned into facts by year-long repetition. The virus originated in Asia. Migratory waterfowl brought it here and spread it. Farmer error is to blame for the outbreak. Anything but the poultry sector itself.

Continue reading

Flu the Farmer

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2013 by rgwallace

Broiler explosion11In our H7N9 post we described the possibility reducing finishing time may select for greater virulence in influenzas. That is, reducing the age at which poultry are sacrificed may select for increasing the damage influenza incurs.

There may be immunological fallout as well,

By increasing the throughput speed, and reducing the age of food animals at slaughter, the livestock industry may also be selecting for strains able to transmit in the face of younger, more robust immune systems, including, should spillover occur, in humans.

Continue reading

A Dangerous Method

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2011 by rgwallace

There were cameras literally everywhere, in London. So far, he’s managed not to think about them. He remembered Bigend saying they were a symptom of autoimmune disease, the state’s protective mechanisms ‘roiding up into something actively destructive, chronic; watchful eyes, eroding the healthy function of that which they ostensibly protected. –William Gibson (2010)

This summer Ron Fouchier’s lab in the Netherlands conducted an experiment as frightening for its simplicity as for its results. The team produced a human-transmissible version of  highly pathogenic influenza A (H5N1) or bird flu.

Rather than by reverse genetics, wherein a complex round robin of mutations are introduced in an effort to produce a human-specific bird flu, an approach which failed most recently at CDC, the Fouchier group let the virus converge on a solution all on its own. HPAI H5N1 was intranasally inoculated into a group of lab ferrets (whose immune response mimics humans’). Only ten infection generations later the virus went “airborne”—transmitted by respiration—while remaining as deadly as its field cousins (with a 75% case fatality rate). A repeat of the experiment reproduced the result.

Continue reading

Alien vs. Predator

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Farming Human Pathogens book, Influenza, Sustainable farming with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2010 by rgwallace

Dallas: [looks at a pen being dissolved by alien’s body fluid] I haven’t seen anything like that except, uh, molecular acid.
Brett: It must be using it for blood.
Parker: It’s got a wonderful defense mechanism. You don’t dare kill it.
Alien (1979)

NASA announced earlier this month one of its research teams discovered an ‘alien’ bacterium at the bottom of California’s Mono Lake. Call off the men in black, it’s strictly still a matter for the nerds in white.

The bacterium isn’t really from another planet, even as we all are a kind of astronaut wherever and whenever we find ourselves spinning through space and time. Rather, this earthly bug showed under the kinds of stringent conditions found on other planets it could assimilate arsenic into its very cellular fabric in place of what was until now thought mission-critical phosphorous.

Continue reading

Virus Dumping

Posted in Ecological resilience, Influenza, Sustainable farming with tags , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2010 by rgwallace

The man come to shake my hand / and rob me of my farm –Ryan Bingham

Dumping grain on another country is a classic maneuver in economic warfare.

When a country’s borders are opened by force or by choice, by structural adjustment or by neoliberal trade agreement, when tariffs and other forms of protectionism are finally scotched, heavily subsidized multinational agribusiness can flood the new market with commodities at prices less than their production costs.

That is, these companies are happy to sell their food stuffs abroad at a loss. That doesn’t make sense, you say. Aren’t these guys in business for profit? They are indeed. The deficits are in actuality a cold-blooded calculation.

Continue reading

‘Biosecure’ Farms Not So Biosecure

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , on August 26, 2009 by rgwallace

There are times when perniciously false premises are treated as the criteria by which truth is determined. We lose the argument before it’s begun. And where does that leave us in our efforts to control mortal dangers of our own making?

An article of faith among veterinarians and epidemiologists is that large industrial farms are both biosecure and biocontained: livestock pathogens such as highly pathogenic influenza can’t check in, and if they do, they can’t check out. The premise is so engrained that international health agencies have codified levels of biosecurity by the size of farming sectors alone. The operational standard is the bigger the farm, the better its protection.

A paper published last year cuts against the grain. Graham et al.’s review shows industrial farming can promote the spread of pathogens to other farms, to the outside environment, and to farm workers. All three modes can expose surrounding communities to daily doses of the latest and greatest in xenospecific bugs, some of which, as this spring’s swine flu pandemic attests, may take root as widespread human outbreaks.

Continue reading