Bird flu started in the huge bird markets in Asia, where chickens and ducks are sold. Poultry farms in the US are safer because of they way these businesses are run in the US: one company controls an entire farm?from egg production to chickens.

US Poultry expert Todd Applegate says, “The poultry industry is the most vertically integrated of all of our livestock industries. As we try to reduce the risk of bird flu in this country, having full control over the entire production process is probably a good thing.”

While wild fowl carrying the avian flu virus could enter the United States, and have entered the UK, it is unlikely those birds could come in contact with chickens and other commercially raised poultry. Applegate says, “The typical company owns their own parent stock?the hens and roosters?that lay the eggs that are then transferred to a company-owned hatchery. Once a bird is hatched from the company-owned hatchery, it is usually transported to another contracted producer. At the end of the production period, the company comes and collects the birds from that farm and takes them to a processing facility that they own themselves.

“Typical levels of biosecurity include limiting visitors onto the farm and limiting the transfer of equipment from one farm to another. By limiting visitors and equipment transfer you limit possible routes of infection. Most producers also go to great lengths to limit other sources of vectors that may transmit diseases, including rodents, flies and wild birds.”

Poultry expert Paul Brennan says, “In Southeast Asia, producers are more intimate with their animals, and there are often multiple species involved, so you’ll have fowl, poultry and swine interacting very closely with people. Also, for security reasons, producers in Southeast Asia will bring their animals into their houses, and they’ll sleep fairly close to them. There’s a lot of cockfighting, and there may be contact with animal fluids, which we wouldn’t consider for a minute in the United States.” The mingling of species encourages the spread of avian influenza.

Why have earlier forms of flu that have migrated here from Asia been called “swine flu?”

“Swine play an extraordinary role in this, in that swine are affected by avian flus and, also, human flus,” Brennan says. “They can act as a kind of crucible for mixing, which is part of the challenge in Southeast Asia. It increases exponentially the opportunity for shift or drift within the genetic makeup of the virus.”

On November 8, Wall Street Journal reporters Nicholas Zamiska and Betsy McKay wrote that WHO is trying to decide if it will be possible to fight bird flu with antivirals medicines other than Tamiflu, since stockpiling of Tamiflu guarantees that there will be a shortage and there’s even evidence that Tamiflu doesn’t work well against the symptoms of bird flu anymore.

The World Health Organization is looking at two drugs, amantadine and rimantadine, that have been used against flu viruses for years. It was originally thought that these drugs would not be effective against the H5N1 bird flu virus, but they are now thinking that the bird flu virus may be vulnerable to a new formulation of one of these drugs.

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