Anyone who has read The Tao of Politics regularly knows that I have been particularly concerned about how bird flu is spread. There has been considerable disagreement on this point. One side claims that migratory birds spread H5N1. Another side claims that the disease is spread by exporting live birds from Asia – the bird, or poultry, trade. The latter point of view seems compelling in many ways, but I have wondered just how many birds are traded between Asia and Europe? Is it really enough so that the practice is now threatening the world with a possible pandemic? In order to answer some of these questions I did some research. Here are some of the results that I found:
The bird trade is vast. One way to stop the spread of bird flu is to close down wild bird markets in Asia.
Europe imports about a million wild birds per year. http://www.worldparrottrust.org/trade/wildbirddec/wbdrelease.pdf
One million wild birds are traded each year, and about two million are smuggled.
There is a vigorous poultry trade throughout Asia. Illegal trade may be taking place between China and Russia via Kazakhstan.
Spread of bird flu through Russia seems to follow trans-Siberian rail routes rather than migratory bird patterns.
One reason why migratory birds don’t seem to be the culprits is that infected ducks die within two days, so something else, the bird trade for example, seems a more likely candidate for the spread. Also, India, which sees as many as 20 million migratory birds per year, is relatively free of H5N1.
Finally, here is a great discussion on illegal bird trade and the spread of H5N1 generally.
So, have I answered my question? Is the bird trade vast enough to account for the spread of bird flu from Asia to Eastern Europe? Maybe. Of course no one knows for sure. But there is a lot of evidence supporting that contention. There is not much we can do about migrating birds, but there is much that we can do about Asian farms, bird markets, and smuggling. It seems to me that we should concentrate most of our efforts in areas where we know we can do some good.
This is not the last word on this subject. If anyone reading this has anything to add, please do. I really do want to know how this disease is spreading. Maybe we can spread some knowledge and resources around and get to the bottom of this.
Tags: bird flu, avian flu, pandemic, H5N1, flu, bird trade, Asia, politics,
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