Bernard Matthews & bird flu… no lessons learned

Daniel Palmer & Neil Allan, played baseball with turkeys

‘You can see why people move to an organic, more open type of farming… You can imagine working in that kind of environment on a long-term basis. It must be really quite awful.’
Solicitor Simon Nicholls defending poultry workers, Daniel Palmer & Neil Allan

When Norfolk poultry workers Daniel Palmer and Neil Allan were filmed playing baseball with live turkeys, it got few headlines and the pair were let off lightly as the court appeared to agree that working for Bernard Matthews was punishment enough. Palmer and Allan had felt considerable peer pressure and were influenced by the culture of the plant.

The pairs’ defence should not be lightly dismissed. Poultry farms will typically pack in twenty birds per square metre (not that they can move around anyway; accelerated growth means many can’t carry their own weight and are reduced to crawling) so batting them from end of Bernard Matthews’ factory to the other probably is the most efficient way to get them where you want them to be… but hey! This is getting a little grisly and I don’t want to put anybody off their Twizzlers.

The good news is that Bernard Matthews is resuming its international trade after the recent Bird Flu scare. And what a scare; it’s estimated that 50,000 Britons could die should the virus trigger the feared pandemic. We need not fear that packing the birds in so tightly and feeding them their own faeces and bits of fallen comrade might have helped spread disease.

That the plant’s bio-security is not as tight as one might expect and authorities have long suspected Hungarian imports the most likely cause (well it is the only other place this strain of the virus has been found) has proved no barrier to a resumption of trade.

Yet the poultry industry’s insistence that a wild bird, who had recently visited Hungary, must have taken a shit on the factory roof or that a factory worker stepped in something is one of those things people believe because they want to. That bird flu tends to occur where intensive poultry farms are common has been dismissed by Bernard Matthews and the like for far too long and it’s high time we recognised that intensive farming is simply wrong.

Check out WSPA’s Farmwatch if you have the stomach.

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