So here we are, constructing a call to arms for what will almost certainly be the conservation fight of our lives…against an ominous, self-inflicted threat.”
~ Alberta Outdoorsmen
Before diving in, note that it’s not so much the proverbial chickens we’re worried about, as it is their little passengers, like H1N1, a virus with an informative history.
H1N1 is the strain of influenza that, so far this season, has infected several thousand Canadians, hospitalized hundreds, and killed at least sixty—mostly strong, healthy adults.
It used to be centuries, or generations between such outbreaks, but it’s a mere handful of years since the 2009 H1N1 epidemic that killed 428 Canadians, along with almost 300,000 people world-wide.
These, however, pale in comparison to this virus’ maiden attack. The great flu epidemic of 1918 killed more people in twenty-five weeks than AIDS has in twenty-five years!
H1N1 first emerged on chicken farms, jumped to people, went from us to pigs, then back to people. Or, it may have gone from chickens directly to pigs, and then to us… that jury’s still out. Either way, intensive conditions allowed it to evolve, become transferable, highly contagious, and quite lethal.
This highlights two fundamental facts:
1) Most of our infectious diseases and epidemics come from animals.
2) The role of domestication is profound – we have basically created most of the infectious diseases we suffer.
The 1918 chicken/swine flu was clearly self-inflicted; but the emerging virus could not have reasonably been foreseen. After all, germ theory had barely been accepted, and viruses were little more than speculation.
A lot less forgivable were the official practices and deliberate deception. Contagious transfer of diseases had been proposed since the mid 16th century. By the late 1800s, after Snow, Pasteur, and Koch, contagious transfer was well documented — even if the causes were not understood.
But in the heat of World War I, both sides wanted to hide their vulnerability, and they were desperate to recruit soldiers. So in the face of a brutal epidemic, governments censored and deliberately downplayed news of the disease spreading among their world-traveling, closely huddled troops. These actions greatly exacerbated the spread and toll of the disease. But it also had another consequence.
Spain, a neutral, non-combatant in the war, duly reported the disease ravaging their population and nearly killing King Alfonso XIII. So, of course, the world rewarded Spain’s honesty by sticking them with the blame.
And that, boys and girls, is why history records that the “Spanish” flu killed somewhere between 50 and 100 million
To stop the spread of chronic wasting disease, we must stop the movement of all potentially infected tissue, living or dead (live animals, carcasses, products, or equipment). Game farming and baiting must be eliminated.
People, more than double the toll of the “war to end all wars.”
This simple reality that we know and accept as individuals is multiplied by orders of magnitude in public policy that regularly affects millions of people, entire ecosystems, and sometimes the whole planet.
Add in the growth capacity of infectious disease, and the proverbial chickens are multiplied by the trillions of infectious pathogens they can carry, foster, evolve, and transfer.
No area is more requiring of care and responsibility than that of disease. But while we’ve made phenomenal progress in response (cures, treatments, vaccines, etc.), we somehow missed the most fundamental of causes. Domestication is a disease factory.
Worse, our short-term profit approach has increased all of the factors of pathogenesis (creation of new germs). Increasing stress, density, squalor, exposure, vectors, husbandry, anti-microbials, and transportation, all foster and accelerate the development of pathogens.
The consequences reach far beyond just the livestock and farm economies; they can threaten us, wildlife, ecosystems, and economies…and that’s precisely what has happened.
Public policy has us facing the conservation fight of our lives, because when it comes to wildlife, the greatest risk is bringing new, wild species into captivity, to be exposed to ALL those factors.
In the late 1980s, ignoring the warnings of scientists, governments rammed through legislation to overturn our highly successful conservation law, to privatize and domesticate wildlife for profit on game farms.
Two thousand elk were imported from the U.S. despite an acknowledged absence of adequate tests. Move animals, and you are moving all of the diseases living in them, and on them.
By the early 1990s, a massive epidemic of tuberculosis ravaged game farms in four provinces. It went to cattle, bison, pigs, and 42 people had to begin treatment. Thousands of animals were destroyed, costing taxpayers tens of millions. Worse, the epidemic cost Canada our TB-free status for all of agriculture worth $1 billion.
Incredibly, governments reneged on promises for comprehensive assessments. Instead, they moved to expand game farming, and transferred authority to the promoters in agriculture.
Our new nightmare is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)—a deer version of ‘mad cow’ disease (BSE) that decimated the U.K.’s beef industry. BSE and CWD turn the brain into something resembling a sponge. There are no treatments or cures; the disease is always fatal.
These diseases are thought to be caused by “prions.” Unlike bacteria or viruses, prions contain no nucleic acids (DNA or RNA), and are just small, mis-folded and infectious proteins.
Proteins are the building blocks of life, but are not strictly alive, so ‘killing’ them is a misnomer. But prions are vastly more resilient than normal proteins. They will persist and remain infectious for years in carcasses, soil, water, and on almost any surface. They’re resistant to disinfectants, alcohol, formaldehyde, detergents, protein enzymes, desiccation, radiation, freezing, and even being virtually incinerated at temperatures >600˚C.
That is what we imported onto Canadian game farms.
U.K. officials had repeatedly insisted beef was safe to eat, claiming “there was no evidence to suggest that BSE could transfer to people.” In March of 1996, the British Health Secretary admitted that people were dying from eating infected beef.
Mere days after the British announcement, the Canadian government confirmed that an elk on a Saskatchewan game farm had died of CWD. Eerily, they used the same claim the U.K. had: “there is no evidence that CWD can transfer to people.” The potential of CWD infecting people seems extremely low, but tests show it is not zero. Squirrel monkeys were infected with CWD just from eating it. But there is a major difference between BSE and CWD.
It spreads between living animals. In addition to infected tissue, transfer is possible through urine, feces, velvet antler, infected soil, and saliva. Scientists say that if CWD were to manifest in people as it does in deer, it would be a nightmare.
Diseases do not stay inside game farms. Animals escape, they interact through the fence, other animals carry things in and out, infected material can simply wash through fences, and people, products, and equipment go in and out daily.
Predictably, after being spread across the continent in trucks, CWD is now out of control in our wildlife. Evidence shows it doing two things: prevalence is growing, and the disease is spreading.
What we do now will literally decide the future. So far, deer, elk, and moose have already been infected, but other species are absolutely at risk—including us.
To delay is literally to invite the nightmare.
But it is still early; the vast majority of our wildlife is clean, and we can contain this if we act immediately.
The Stan Hall deer farm in Wisconsin that was so infected with CWD that the Wisconsin government had to buy it and then double fence it to prevent wild deer from gaining access.
This is a call to battle stations for the conservation fight of our lives.
As will be explained in the coming months, scientists, hunters, and the best conservation organizations in the world are mapping out a plan of containment, and to reverse the absolutely asinine policies that put us here.
As a first step, we are working on a documentary film to allow everyone to learn the facts and see the evidence for themselves.
CWD — The Conservation Fight of Our Lives
by Darrel Rowledge