Millions Left Dead in Katrina's Wake
In early August, 250,000 egg-laying hens were killed in a fire at a Michigan factory farm. Sadly, this number pales in comparison to the animal fatalities caused by Hurricane Katrina at the end of the month. In addition to wildlife, companion and laboratory animals who drowned, reports indicate millions of farm animals died during the storm, and more were slaughtered or expected to die due to disease.
The vast majority who died were chickens raised for meat in confinement systems. Like the hens left to burn up in the fire, these animals were abandoned when disaster struck—and are commonly referred to as "live inventories" or forgotten. Responsible farming calls for a disaster management plan that places importance on the animals' welfare.
Antibiotics Overuse Spurs Resistance
Drug resistance due to indiscriminate use of antibiotics in both animals and humans in Asia has fueled the spread of a pig-borne disease in humans living in southwest China since late June. Usually rare in humans and easily treated, streptococcus suis infected over 200 people in Sichuan province by mid-August, killing almost 20 percent of reported cases.
Meanwhile, avian influenza continues to flourish, largely due to the weakened immune systems of birds raised for meat who are force-fed mass quantities of antibiotics and housed together in cramped sheds. More than 60 people have died after contracting the virus, and officials have culled at least 140 million birds as a result.
Insecticide Causes Birds to Fall from the Sky
Famphur, sold under the trade name Warbex, is an organophosphorus insecticide associated with bird die-offs; numerous dead magpies, robins and hawks have been discovered after treating cattle with dermal applications of the drug. The chemical can remain on cattle hair for over 90 days, posing a serious risk to birds who perch on the backs of cattle or ingest their hair. Secondary and tertiary poisoning of eagles and other raptors feeding on famphur-killed wildlife have also been documented.
A federal district court in Georgia recently sentenced Kahn Cattle Co. for violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The conviction stemmed from an incident in Jan. 2003 in which state law enforcement officials responded to White, Ga. resident reports that birds were "falling from the sky" and concluded that famphur-laced corn had been spread around the Kahn farm. They collected 3,326 dead birds, including several owl species, blackbirds, geese, crows, cardinals and blue jays. Many more likely went undiscovered.
Monsanto's Roundup: Deadly to Frogs
A new study says the agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto's popular herbicide Roundup is highly lethal to frogs. University of Pennsylvania researcher Rick Relyea has shown Roundup kills tadpoles at concentrations lower than those previously tested, and 98 percent died within three weeks. His experiments also prove the chemical's effects are not diminished by the presence of soil, and it killed 79 percent of adult frogs in only one day. Almost 113 million pounds of Roundup are used on farms each year, and the herbicide often drifts to small wetlands, putting the future of frogs in many areas in jeopardy.