H5N1 research biased against wild birds by poultry lobby power?

H5N1 research biased against wild birds by poultry lobby power?


Here's a message I sent to members of aiwatch email group; interested to "hear" what you think.


This group has been very quiet lately; largely, I believe as the H5N1 and wild birds "story" has been pretty much the same old, same old.
(Here in Hong Kong, no surprises there have been a couple of cases lately, around Chinese New Year: past CNYs have suggested poultry smuggling increases around this time, with increased demand; and we get some poultry from places with poor H5N1 control.)

Recently, Taej Mundkur kindly sent me a paper he co-authored, on studies of migratory birds in Asia, and possible relevance to H5N! (well, title doesn't say "possible relevance" but, to me, that's the gist of it: no clear links revealed, and H5N1 faded away, surely indicating that even if it enters the wild, it soon disappears).
Not surprisingly, Food and Agriculture Organisation was behind the research: seems heavily involved in work on showing links between wild birds and H5N1 movements.
And there's been plenty of such research: the paper cites various articles on wild birds and H5N1, but not one that specifically looks at poultry trade (including smuggling) and H5N1 spread.

As you likely know, FAO has in past found wild birds highly convenient scapegoats for H5N1 spread: readily blaming wild birds even with nary a shred of evidence, and even when facts conflict with the convenient story.
Poultry industry is powerful; especially factory farming poultry industry - smallholders have had a bum rap with H5N1.

Then, flu expert Robert Webster is a major proponent of wild birds being major flu vectors; does research, inc paper co-authored lately calling ducks "Trojan horses". (Hmm....)

Wild birds are of course not powerful.
And how strong is conservation when it comes to this issue? What sort of funds have conservation groups for such research?

- I'd like to know if you have views on this, as I may write something, seeing if research efforts and public relations have been and remain biased towards poultry industry.

Is there undue focus on purported spread of H5N1 by wild birds, and insufficient regarding spread by both regular and black market movements of poultry and even poultry cages? What of possible links to feeding poultry manure, dead chickens etc to fish in farm ponds: mentioned within aiwatch, yet did this merit but not receive research effort (that I know of)?
So is situation biased by strength of poultry industry, by FAO and governments that would prefer there were no problems with poultry?

How have conservation groups performed: have they defended wild birds with the vigour that perhaps deserved?
Here, I remember, say, a paper from Wetlands International (as I recall) that happily discussed wild ducks potential roles as H5N1 carriers, showing their routes from Asia to Europe, with little or no thought that a disease that is lethal to birds could actually kill them before they get far.
I haven't seen WI strongly putting case against wild birds being major vectors; a case that rests strongly on such basic science as evolution.

What of consequences of this ready blame of wild birds?
Here in Hong Kong - first place to blame wild birds - we've seen people become fearful of wild birds (not panicking, especially nowadays), Mai Po reserve closures costing significant money for WWF; but worse have been reports from Russia of wild birds scared and killed through fears of H5N1.
Given there are such consequences, shouldn't various "conservationists" have done more on behalf of wild birds, which have no voice of their own? [Some have; yet to me it was striking that it was UNEP in Africa - well away from main H5N1 furore - that launched a World Migratory Bird Day with theme that wild birds aren't really such key vectors of H5N1.]

Well, that's quite enough from me.
But I'd appreciate your views, including on whether recent info has changed situation. [I haven't followed the issue so closely of late; mainly as to me has tended to be more of the same.]
Hong Kong Outdoors enjoying and protecting wild Hong Kong. DocMartin includes H5N1 and wild birds info