“A bird flu pandemic on the scale of Covid-19 would be devastating, not only in taking lives but also in disrupting the economy to a life-altering degree.”
A new report has warned that intensively reared chicken supplied to supermarket giants including Tesco, Sainsbury and the Co-op is creating an ideal environment for a “catastrophic” fresh pandemic.
The study, titled A British Pandemic: The Cruelty and Danger of Supermarket Chicken, has been prepared for the animal charity Open Cages.
Meat farms could be the next pandemic ground
Scientists behind the report state that chicken bred in industrial farms are subjected to a “cocktail” of infections, which creates a near-perfect breeding ground for a disease outbreak of pandemic potential.
In addition, the report highlights that such farms breed species that have been engineered to grow unnaturally quickly, allowing farmers to maximise profits. However, the birds are “practically unable to ward off infection when it strikes” because their immune systems are so weak.
According to Animal-welfare groups, nearly a billion broiler (meat) chickens a year are reared in the UK and specific breeds called Ross 308 and Ross 708, the most common fast-growing breeds of chicken make up about 70 per cent of the entire production of chicken meat in the European Union.
More devastating viral outbreaks
Scientists warn that a new bird flu virus with “high transmissibility” would make Covid-19 appear mild.
“A bird flu pandemic on the scale of Covid-19 would be devastating, not only in taking lives but also in disrupting the economy to a life-altering degree,” the report wrote.
The report adds that bird flu, which was considered a rare disease among chickens has now become a regular occurrence thanks to such unhealthy farm operations.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that one strain of bird flu, H7N9, has caused 1,568 cases in humans and 616 deaths worldwide since 2013, and scientists warned that “if the H7N9 virus achieves sustained human-to-human transmission, it ‘could well be worse, perhaps far worse than the Great Pandemic of 1918’.”
Supermarkets promote industrial chicken farms
According to the scientists, supermarkets are primarily responsible for this “cruel and dangerous” system, because they reportedly buy chicken from such overcrowded industrial farms in order to keep prices of their meat products competitive and cheap.
RSPCA investigation also found the most popular supermarkets encourage consumers to buy chickens that have suffered in these disease breeding industrial-style systems through misleading labels and packaging.
Better Chicken Commitment
In a bid to promote better animal welfare standards, the RSPCA launched the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) through which signatories commit to adopting new minimum standards, including higher welfare breeds and lower stocking densities, by 2026.
Waitrose and Marks & Spencer are the only two supermarkets that have come on board as yet.
While Tesco and Co-op said their chicken meat ranges meet or exceed RSPCA Assured standards, a spokesperson for Sainsbury’s said: “While we share the commitment to improving animal welfare practices the Better Chicken Commitment is trying to achieve, we believe a different approach is more effective. The way we work with our farmers has been different for years.
“We’ve created a cycle of measuring, managing and continuously improving the health and welfare of our animals, and we believe the results speak for themselves.”
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