Is a backlash beginning to appear in reaction to all the publicity about H1N5?I recently received an analysis from a private corporate security firm that tries hard to downplay the possibility of an avian influenza epidemic. This analysis is eerily similar in tone to a lot of publications that oppose the idea of global warming, and focus instead on the economic impact of scary headlines and hasty governmental action. Here are a few quotes:"In late 2005, public hysteria over bird flu reached a fever pitch. This proved particularly true in Europe, where, if one believed the hype, it seemed H5N1 was on the verge of wiping out the human race. With time, public concern at the threat appears to have subsided. And indeed, the gravity of the threat posed by H5N1 to human health remains very small. True, H5N1 could theoretically evolve into a form easily communicable among humans, and perhaps as dangerous as the virus behind the 1918 global flu pandemic. But then again, it might not."Instead, let us focus on what we know will happen."Even though bird flu may not become capable of human-to-human transmission, it is extremely contagious among birds of the same, and different, species. One single case is enough to force the culling of not just an existing agricultural flock, but of any flocks that may have had contact with it. A 2003 bird flu outbreak in the Netherlands, involving a strain far less threatening to humans than H5N1, ultimately resulted in the culling of nearly 31 million birds at the cost of $450 million to $600 million. "The eight states that have confirmed the H5N1 virus have more than 40 billion euros ($53 billion) collectively invested in their poultry industries, or roughly one-third of the Continent's 135 billion euro ($160 billion) total invested in poultry. To look at it from another perspective, more than 2.5 billion tons of fowl are processed in these countries each year. Culling threatens to cost European poultry farmers a substantial amount. Already, poultry sales in Greece have reportedly fallen by 95 percent and sales in Italy are down by 50 percent. And as Europe's single largest producer with more than 24 billion euros ($28.6 billion) invested in poultry, France faces the largest risk, even though it has yet to report a case of H5N1. Russia, which has culled more than 600,000 birds in its industrial farms due to the virus, could well serve as a precedent for EU farmers now facing the same situation."
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