A group of flu scientists and health officials want to end secrecy over avian flu data. The group says some scientists and governments are keeping flu data hidden. The GLRC’s
Lester Graham reports:
A group of flu scientists and health officials want to end secrecy over avian flu data. The
group says some scientists and governments are keeping flu data hidden. The GLRC’s
Lester Graham reports:
Some data on avian flu outbreaks are restricted by governments, or kept private within small
groups of researchers, or the information hoarded for years by scientists who want to be
the first to publish in academic journals, according to correspondence published online by
the journal Nature.
Seventy top flu scientists and health officials propose sharing all data through what
they’re calling the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data. The consortium
and its data will be open to all scientists provided they agree to share their own research.
Any articles published in academic journals would have to credit the use of other
researchers’ data. The idea is to more quickly allow scientists and health officials world-
wide to better understand how avian flu viruses spread and evolve before they reach
Milking Devon cattle are rare domestic breeds from an earlier day, some dating back to the 18th century. The animals hold genetic information that some people think is too valuable to lose. (Photo by Lester Graham)
The Garfield Farm Museum is preserving antiquated domestic breeds of farm animals, such as these Black Java chickens. (Photo by Lester Graham)
The Garfield Farm Museum, between Geneva and Elburn, Illinois, brings together farming experiences of the past 150 years with an appreciation of the natural environment, according to its website. (Photo by Lester Graham)
When you think of endangered species, farm animals might not top the list. But some types of farm animals are in danger of going extinct.
Certain breeds of common barnyard creatures are no longer considered commercially viable, and are being allowed to die off. But as the GLRC’s Chris Lehman reports, there’s an effort to preserve some rare varieties of
When you think of endangered species, farm animals might not top the list. But some
types of farm animals are in danger of going extinct. Certain breeds of common barnyard
creatures are no longer considered commercially viable, and are being allowed to die off.
But as the GLRC’s Chris Lehman reports, there’s an effort to preserve some rare varieties
When you buy a pound of ground beef or a pack of chicken legs, you probably don’t
think about what kind of cow or chicken the meat came from. And in most stores,
you don’t have a choice. Beef is beef and chicken is chicken.
Of course, there’s many different kinds of cows and chickens, but most farmers stick with
just a handful of types. They prefer animals that are specially bred to produce more meat
in less time.
That’s all well and good if your motive is profit.
But some people think the move towards designer farm animals is risky.
Jerome Johnson is executive director of Garfield Farm Museum.
(Sound of turkeys gobbling)
Johnson says breeds like these Narragansett turkeys carry genetic traits that could be
desirable in the future. They don’t require as much food, for instance. That could be an
attractive feature as costs continue to rise:
“Some of the high-producing, high-yielding animals today, they may require a lot of
input. In other words, a lot of feed, more expense since so many things are derived from
petroleum, from the diesel fuel that powers the tractors to the production of fertilizer
and the like, and chemicals for herbicides and all… that as the cost of that goes up, it may
actually be cheaper to raise a different type of animal, that doesn’t require that much.”
Johnson also says some common poultry breeds get sick more easily. That’s part of the
risk farmers take when they choose meatier birds. Normally that might not be a problem,
but if Avian flu spreads to the US, some of the older breeds might carry genes that could
resist the disease. If those breeds disappear, that genetic information would be lost.
But some farmers choose rare livestock breeds for completely different reasons.
(Sound of baby chicks)
Scott Lehr and his family raise several varieties of pure-bred poultry, sheep, and goats on
their northern Illinois farm. These chicks are just a few weeks old…
(Sound of baby chicks)
“These are all pure-bred birds. These are birds that have been around a long time. Some
of the breeds that are in there, there’s Bantam Brown Leghorns, Bantam White Leghorns.”
Some of the poultry breeds are so rare and exotic they’re practically collector’s items.
Lehr’s son enters them in competitions. But the animals on their farm aren’t just for
showing off. Scott says they use the wool from their herd of Border Cheviot sheep for a
craft studio they opened in a nearby town:
“There’s quite a bit of demand growing for handspun wool and the rising interest in the
hand arts, if you will… knitting and spinning and weaving and those kinds of things… are
really beginning to come into, I guess, the consciousness of the American public in many
ways. It’s evolving beyond a cottage industry.”
And the wool of rare breeds like the Border Cheviot sheep is popular among people who want handspun wool.
(Sound of Johnson calling to giant pig, “Hey, buddy, how ya doin’?”)
Back at the Garfield Farm Museum, Jerome Johnson offers a handful of grass to a 700
pound Berkshire hog. This Berkshire is different from the variety of pig with the same
name that’s relatively common today. Johnson says these old-style Berkshires have a
different nose and more white hair than the modern Berkshire. They also tend to be fatter,
which used to be a more desirable trait.
The museum’s pair of old-style Berkshires are literally a dying breed. Johnson says the
boar isn’t fertile anymore:
“They were the last breeding pair that we knew of. These were once quite common but
now are quite rare. And we maybe have found a boar that is fertile that is up in
Wisconsin that was brought in from England here a couple years ago that we could try
crossing with our sow to see if we can preserve some of these genetics.”
(Sound of pigs)
Advocates of rare livestock breeds say the animals can be healthier and sometimes tastier
than the kinds raised on large commercial farms. And although you won’t find many
farm animals on the endangered species list, they could have important benefits for future
Bird watching continues to be a popular hobby. Now a recently upgraded website can help people track where the birds are.
The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Bird watching continues to be a popular hobby. Now a recently upgraded
website can help people track where the birds are. The GLRC’s Chuck
Cornell University and the National Audubon Society have set a website
called eBird.org. The site has compiled years of observations
from amateur birdwatchers across North America. Chris Wood is Cornell’s
eBird project manager. He says the site could help people who want to
see birds while traveling.
“If you’re planning to take to a trip really anywhere in the U.S. or
Mexico, you can use eBird. There’s a tab that says view and explore
data and you can get a bar chart to show the distribution of birds that
have been seen there.”
Wood says having all the data in one place can also help scientists as
they try to learn more about bird migration patterns. He says nowadays
that could be useful in the effort to block the spread of avian flu.
Health experts say the medical records of cats and dogs could serve as an early warning system for diseases such as avian flu. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams has more:
Health experts say the medical records of cats and dogs could serve as an
early warning system for diseases such as avian flu. The GLRC’s
Rebecca Williams has more:
The health records of thousands of dogs and cats throughout the country
are tracked by the National Companion Animal Surveillance Program.
Larry Glickman helped design the system. He’s an epidemiologist at
Purdue University. He says it was originally designed to track anthrax or
plague outbreaks in pets. Glickman says now, the system could be used
to monitor pets for avian flu symptoms.
“What we’re concerned with in the U.S is for example, a pet animal like a
cat will come in contact with a bird that is sick or even died of avian
influenza, then the cat will pick up that virus and will become infected,
and the very same day it might climb in bed with people and transmit
that virus to people.”
Glickman says the system can pinpoint areas where quarantines are
needed… to slow the spread of disease in both pets and people.
Julie Craves stands in the area where she sets up mist nets during migration to catch land birds. (Photo by Christina Shockley)
Researchers are tracking a potentially dangerous strain of avian flu in Asia, Europe, and Africa. They say the H5N1 virus could mutate and cause a human pandemic. Experts say domestic poultry or smuggled pet birds could bring the virus into the U.S. Others say it will arrive this fall by way of migratory birds. The GLRC’s Christina Shockley reports:
Researchers are tracking a potentially dangerous strain of avian flu in
Asia, Europe, and Africa. They say the H5N1 virus could mutate and
cause a human pandemic. Experts say domestic poultry or smuggled pet
birds could bring the virus into the U.S. Others say it will arrive this fall
by way of migratory birds. The GLRC’s Christina Shockley reports:
Millions of birds will migrate across the globe along major flyways in
the coming weeks. Some birds from Asia will fly to Alaska to reach
summer nesting sites. If those birds carry the H5N1 strain of avian flu
with them, they could transmit the virus to birds that will later stop in the
Steve Schmitt is the lead veterinarian for Michigan’s Department of
“The pacific flyway far and away has the majority of birds that nest in
Alaska and then move south through the fall into Mexico.”
That means if the virus arrives in the lower 48 states via migratory birds,
it would likely arrive first in a state along the Pacific coast.
Poultry farmers in the Midwest are taking extra precautions after the discovery of avian flu among chickens in Pennsylvania and Delaware, but there are some things the industry can’t control, as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
Poultry farmers in the Midwest are taking extra precautions after the discovery of avian flu
among chickens in Pennsylvania and Delaware. But there are some things the industry can’t
control, as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
Most commercial poultry farmers practice state-of-the-art biosecurity because of what’s at stake.
Some avian flu is relatively harmless, but if a lethal variety breaks out, the farmer’s entire flock
has to be destroyed. So birds are isolated from contact with visitors and delivery trucks, and
workers frequently change clothes and disinfect their shoes.
Paul Wiley is with Michigan State University’s agricultural extension service. He says
that’s not the case with city émigrés to the country who raise chickens as a hobby.
“The first thing they want to have is two horses, the second thing they want is some kind of flock
of poultry, and they are clueless about poultry!”
Wiley says more backyard flocks could threaten the health of the large commercial flocks. Still,
he says the situation is not nearly as bad as in some Asian countries. There, birds are sold live at
markets, which brings them into frequent contact with people, other birds and wild animals.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tracy Samilton.