Bonus Episode: Bird Flu and Sick Cows

This is The ChangeUnderground

I’m your host, Jon Moore

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!


On March 16, cows on a Texas dairy farm began showing symptoms of a mysterious illness now known to be H5N1 bird flu. Their symptoms were nondescript, but their milk production dramatically dropped and turned thick and creamy yellow. The next day, cats on the farm that had consumed some of the raw milk from the sick cows also became ill. While the cows would go on to largely recover, the cats weren’t so lucky. They developed depressed mental states, stiff body movements, loss of coordination, circling, copious discharge from their eyes and noses, and blindness. By March 20, over half of the farm’s 24 or so cats died from the flu.

End Quote

Whilst we’ve been discussing the benefits of regen ag during this season of the pod, there is still an economic model in livestock production which rewards treating stock as machinery parts. The Henry Ford Model T systemic approach to living beings. We will all recall from the unpleasantness of 2020-2021 that offices where people are crowded in like cattle at feedlots were closed down due to the increased risk of transmission. Well the livestock systems developed as CAFOs, (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) are not dissimilar to those office setups. 

The above quote comes from the CNN website and is the opening paragraph of a piece entitled: Cats suffer H5N1 brain infections, blindness, death after drinking raw milk

You will recall, I’m sure that most infections of humans develop in wild species, usually birds and then jump across to a mammal of some sort and then, if we are really unlucky, into humans.

If you set out to develop a system to enhance this transference of wild virus to humans through another mammal vector you’d pretty much design the CAFO system. On top of that you’d dose the animals regularly with “preventative” antibiotics to keep them alive long enough to be slaughtered in an abattoir. The bonus of adding regular antibiotic doses to the system is antibiotic resistance. So we now have a situation where bird flu, specifically the variant H5N1, has been devastating wild bird populations for at least five years, probably longer, and transmitting to mammals in the wild, sea lions, seals and their ilk and causing deaths in those populations. These were probably cases of carnivores eating deceased or nearly deceased infected birds, not from sea lion to sea lion infections.

At that point in the evolution of the virus, we have been pretty safe from it becoming another world wide event. I’m loath to use the standard word the WHO used during 2020 and beyond because I’m likely to have the content flagged as some sort of conspiracy. What’s changed, as the quote revealed was H5N1 is now endemic in some cattle herds, transmitting between mammals and across species.

In the more crowded poultry production systems transmission to humans has occurred as per the follow from the WHO Avian Influenza Weekly Update 945 dated 3 May 2024:


From 1 January 2003 to 28 March 2024, a total of 254 cases of human infection with avian influenza A(H5N1) virus have been reported from four countries within the Western Pacific Region (Table 1). Of these cases, 141 were fatal, resulting in a case fatality rate (CFR) of 56%. The last cases in the Western Pacific Region were reported from Viet Nam, with an onset date of 11 March 2024.

End Quote

Table 1 

So a fatality rate of 56%. That’s a concern. Having seen the effects upon people, cultures, politics and world trade with a pathogen with an order of magnitude smaller fatality rate, we can assume this is a thing we should be taking seriously. 

A good first step would be to close the CAFOs and put the livestock back on the soil where they do good rather than create manure ponds to contaminate groundwater, rivers and streams. This podcast has covered, ad infinitum, the benefits of livestock on soil for soil health, carbon sequestration and animal health so I’ll not go over that again. In the meantime we need to monitor the health status of stock, stock handlers, clearly cats, who may be the new canaries in the coal mine, and the waste, milk products, meat and eggs from these CAFOs. Foot and Mouth disease destroys livestock systems, H5N1 could do that and wipe out half of humanity. 

Any cursory reading of the effects of the Black Death with a 25-40% fatality rate shows society was upended. Some winners, some losers and many deaths lead to traumatised populations. Toss in a dose of socials, misinformation, a divided polity and the outcomes would be difficult to predict.

What’s to be done after we end CAFOs? The price incentives in the EU and the USA through farm subsidies could be tweaked towards a more sustainable application of agriculture towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Instead of subsidising corn into ethanol, those funds could be redirected towards fencing, stock yards, shedding and housing to set farming units on the path to regenerative ag practices. Educational outreach which worked remarkably well with chemical farming could be directed towards equipping farmers with the different skills required for a regenerative approach.

Those would be carrots, the stick would be slapping a levy on all CAFO produced meat, dairy and eggs to cover the real cost in environmental, health and animal welfare terms that are cost shifted through the economy away from the producers. Added to this we could launch antitrust or anti competitive actions against the huge food conglomerates dominating world food production. They keep growing, like a cancer, perhaps. JBS a Brazilian based meat packing company purchased a sea based CAFO here in Tasmania producing salmon, destroying seabeds with fish droppings and shooting/electrocuting seals attracted to “free” feed of salmon. Moving all ocean based fish farming onto the land would provide huge benefits to the sea and to the land where the “waste” could be better utilised for crop/pasture fertiliser but I digress, a little. A CAFO is a CAFO is a CAFO.

So the point of this bonus episode? Whilst there was 102 years between the Spanish Flu and our own unpleasant years, there is no guarantee it’ll be another 102 before the next version drops on us from a great height. We have, unintentionally, created the systems to capture, evolutionary modify and spread any number of pathogens. If you can grow at least some of your food. Work animals into your systems, avoid, perhaps, poultry, maybe. We have chooks and I find them very calming to just sit with. They do suffer badly from the H5N1 variants while the ducks appear to be asymptomatic. We have both. It is a thing I’m giving thought to. Rabbits would be a replacement, meat for eggs, protein is protein  but who’s to know what’s for the best. I keep an eye on the poultry every day for signs of illness but that 50% fatality rate does tend towards a general cull and a different option.

Anyway, forewarned, forearmed and so forth.

I’ll be back next with episode 9 in season 9 that would have dropped but for this bonus forcing itself out of my fingertips and onto the airwaves of the interwebs.

Until then Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil.



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Transcript: ‎—documents/emergency/surveillance/avian-influenza/ai_20240503.pdf?sfvrsn=5f006f99_130#:~:text=From%201%20January%202003%20to,(CFR)%20of%2056%25.

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