Book Review: Bird Flu by Michael Greger (2006)

January 25th, 2007 2:22 pm by Kelly Garbato

Well, it took me long enough, but I’ve finally read and reviewed Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, by Michael Greger (2006). The review is posted on Amazon, but in the spirit of supporting independent publishing, if you decide to buy a copy, hop on over to Lantern Books to make your purchase. Dr. Greger has also made the book, in its entirety, available for free online: http://birdflubook.com – so really, you’ve got no reason not to read it.

Just to add to the review I posted on Amazon – a longer version of which I included after the jump – this is one of the rare books I’d recommend to anyone, veg*n or omni, ARA or anti. Greger does address animal welfare issues in the animal agriculture industry, however, this isn’t his main focus. Rather, he explains how our mistreatment of animals actually comes back to bite us in the arse, time and time again. For example, commonplace factory farming practices make livestock more susceptible to disease. Because of various anatomical and biological similarities that chicken and pigs (in particular) share with humans, these diseases reproduce, mutate and evolve in their avian and swine hosts until they’re capable of infecting people. Case in point: bird flu, which may very well cause the next global pandemic.

Given that Greger is the is Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture for the HSUS and was previously Farm Sanctuary’s Chief Medical Investigator, I think it’s safe to say that he’s a vegetarian or vegan, with at least a strong animal welfare streak. Even so, he avoids calling for the worldwide adoption of veganism. His most radical suggestion is a global moratorium on (chicken) meat/egg production: cycle through the existing flocks of broiler and laying birds, and then simply stop breeding more in order to eradicate bird flu from all domestic bird sources. Implicit in the plan is the eventual return to chicken and egg production, albeit on a less intensive scale (read: no more factory farming and artificially cheap meat). Not exactly ideal by animals rights standards, but still too radical to actually happen anytime soon.

So, while the book isn’t explicitly an animal rights (or even welfare) treatise, it does make a very compelling case for the humane treatment of animals – if not for their sake, then for our own. And, quite frankly, self-preservation might be the only argument to sway some hard-core omnivores.

If you’d like to learn more, Dr. Greger will be updating the online version of the book; he’s already noted some important corrections, such as how Tamiflu cannot be readministered through urine (!). He also maintains a newsletter, “Dr. Greger’s Pandemic Updates”, over at Google Groups. And do check out Dr. Karen Davis (of United Poultry Concerns) and Dr. John Oxford’s (.pdf; Centre for Infectious Diseases) reviews, too.

And, of course, a video summary for the bibliophobic among us:

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my basement bunker fortress of solitude, rearranging my canned corn.


 

Bird Flu by Michael Greger

I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
And in-flu-enza.


 
Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching by Michael Greger, MD (2006)

Playing chicken with our food supply…

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the publisher’s invitation.)

“What started for millions around the globe as muscle aches and a fever ended days later with many victims bleeding from their nostrils, ears, and eye sockets. Some bled inside their eyes; some bled around them. They vomited blood and coughed it up. Purple blood blisters appeared on their skin. […] [The Chief of the Medical Services, Major Walter V. Brem] wrote that ‘often blood was seen to gush from a patient’s nose and mouth.’ In some cases, blood reportedly spurted with such force as to squirt several feet. ‘When pneumonia appeared,’ Major Brem recounted, ‘the patients often spat quantities of almost pure blood.’ They were bleeding into their lungs.”

BIRD FLU: A VIRUS OF OUR OWN HATCHING opens not with H5N1, the modern day “bird flu virus” which has the potential to mutate into the deadliest pandemic that the world has ever seen, but with H1N1, the influenza virus responsible for the 1918 flu pandemic. In just two short years, an estimated 50 to 100 million people perished as World War I raged on.

As described by author Michael Greger, MD, in chilling detail:

“All over the country, farms and factories shut down and schools and churches closed. Homeless children wandered the streets, their parents vanished. The New York Health Commissioner estimated that in New York City alone, 21,000 children lost both parents to the pandemic. Around the world, millions were left widowed and orphaned.”

Yet, H1N1 had a “low” (relatively speaking) mortality rate of 2.5% to 5%. Compare that to H5N1, which thus far has killed 55% of those infected – and one must wonder why the possibility of bird flu pandemic is confined to occasional media reports that are quickly dwarfed by the latest Hollywood gossip. Is bird flu-inspired panic just another example of media sensationalism?

Not so, argues Greger. From 1918 he transitions seamlessly to the research laboratories of today. Greger, who is Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States and “an internationally recognized lecturer on public health issues”, launches into Viral Biology 101, explaining in layman’s terms how a virus reproduces, spreads, mutates, and interacts with its host. Though he’s dealing with (arguably) dry subject matter, Greger manages to keep the discussion engaging via the liberal use of colorful analogies and sharp, witty prose. This isn’t your high school bio textbook.

Once a basic understanding of viruses has been established, Dr. Greger addresses modern animal agriculture, specifically, how it’s especially conducive to the transmission and evolution of avian influenza. Animals, particularly “broiler” (meat) and “laying” (egg) hens, are packed into windowless sheds by the thousands; by the time they’re fully grown just 45 days later (in the case of broiler hens), they don’t even have enough space to spread their wings or turn around. Chickens are selectively bred for fast growth or maximum egg production – much to the detriment of their immune systems. Rather than improve the birds’ ability to stave off disease (which would come at the expense of their “energy efficiency”), large-scale corporate “factory farmers” opt to pump their livestock full of antibiotics, thus contributing to bacterial resistance in humans. Add to this mix the fact that chickens literally spend their short lives wallowing in their own feces (and sometimes even that of previously butchered flocks), and you’ve got the perfect environment for a virus such as H5N1 to thrive.

And thrive it has. The billions of chickens, turkeys, and pigs raised and slaughtered for food annually act like “petri dishes” in which avian influence can mingle, swapping genetic material in order to mutate, gradually evolving into a strain more lethal and infectious to humans. Their compromised immune systems and unsanitary and stressful living conditions only facilitate this process. Despite numerous attempts at eradicating the virus – for example, by wiping out entire flocks of chickens, to the tune of millions of birds at a time – H5N1 (along with additional viral strains) can still be found on many farms, throughout the world.

While some critics – particularly those in the animal agriculture industry – dismiss this as scare mongering, Greger argues his points convincingly, and offers a wealth of evidence to support his claims. Indeed, his “Reference” section spans an impressive 90 pages! Throughout the text, he quotes a myriad of experts in the field, including Robert Webster (St. Jude’s), Kennedy F. Shortridge (University of Hong Kong), and Michael Osterholm (University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, Department of Homeland Security’s National Center for Food Protection and Defense), as well as health professionals from the USDA, CDC, FAO, and WHO. Even “food scientists” admit – in the comfort and familiarity of their own trade journals, mind you – that the industry is flirting with disaster. The general – nay, unanimous – consensus seems to be “when, not if.”

A pandemic is inevitable, that is, unless we swiftly and dramatically move away from factory farming methods towards less intense animal agriculture methods, such as free range farming. Additionally, this must be preceded by a temporary global moratorium on meat and egg production, in order to eradicate the bird flu virus(es) already present in farm animals worldwide. None of which is bloody likely to happen.

Thus, Greger urges readers to take precautions before a pandemic hits. He recommends obtaining and filling a prescription for Tamiflu (the more effective of two antivirals used to treat avian influenza), as well as stocking up on necessary groceries and such – TODAY. Greger also advises readers on how to purify water with bleach, and concoct cheap, homemade hand sanitizer. Oh, and do make sure you have plenty of liquor, cigarettes and ammo on hand, just in case the world reverts to the barter system! Though Greger reiterates and even elaborates upon government-issued pandemic guidelines in this last section, I didn’t exactly walk away with a sense of empowerment. The rest of BIRD FLU was so horrifying that stocking up on canned veggies and medical masks won’t do much to ease my troubled mind.

Whether you’re a vegan, a carnivore, an average Jane, a state Senator, an animal welfarist, or a hunter, BIRD FLU: A VIRUS OF OUR OWN HATCHING is one book you can’t afford to ignore. For too long, we’ve been playing chicken with our food supply – and nature may soon see fit to reward our taste for cheap meat with a global pandemic.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined.)

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6 Responses to “Book Review: Bird Flu by Michael Greger (2006)”

  1. easyVegan.info » Blog Archive » Everyday Activism: DIY Purell Says:

    […] According to Michael Greger, Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States and M.D. (and author of Bird Flu, which I recently reviewed here), people are, shall we say, quite lax when it comes to washing their hands. Given that handwashing is one of the most effective ways to protect against infectious diseases such as Ebola and – yes! – avian influenza, findings such as these Ninety-five percent say they wash their hands after using a public toilet, yet the American Society for Microbiology published a survey of almost 8,000 people across five U.S. cities and found the true number to be only about two-thirds. Chicago topped the list at 83%; in New York City, the actual number fell to less than half. […]

  2. easyVegan.info » Blog Archive » Faux news ain’t got nothing on these guys. Says:

    […] Now, those familiar with bird flu and its consequences will pick up on the trigger words employed by author and poultry industry lackey Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade. Yet, those not schooled in the evils of factory farming and the threat of bird flu might not understand what exactly went down on that mystery West Virginian turkey farm. Charlene, much like Tony Snow, sure knows how to work the spin. […]

  3. easyVegan.info » Blog Archive » Book Review: Aftershock by pattrice jones (2007) Says:

    […] W00t, here it is! Finally finished my review of pattrice jones’s Aftershock, which I totally loved. I also loved that I was able to squeeze all of my thoughts – or at least a summary thereof – into the Amazon review. (Probably due in no small part to the prelim/mini-review of Thursday last, in which I excised the copious quoting right outta my system.) Amazon, for those not in the know, caps reviews at a crazy 1000 word limit. I clocked in at 980, hence the w00t! I thought I was going to have to chop it up, like with my Bird Flu review. So w00t, w00t. […]

  4. Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs (Karen Davis, 2009): A vegan feminist book review, with recipes! » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] since they too are bred for morbid obesity. Occasional mass “depopulations” due to avian influenza (BIRD FLU!) scares are actually funded by taxpayer dollars – and sometimes include […]

  5. Odds & Ends: Flu Factories, Shelter “Pets” & JVM » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] Greger, whose Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching I reviewed several years back, was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest project, Flu […]

  6. Kinship Circle: ACT/ End Pig Labs At John Hopkins Medical School » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] – in no small part because the 1918 pandemic is heavily discussed in Michael Greger’s Bird Flu, which I highly recommend – and really found it quite ironical that John Hopkins was, at the […]

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