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Why the chickens are coming home to roost

• The most revealing aspect of the media coverage of the Rachel Allen pheasant controversy is how little notice the media generally takes of where the bulk of our meat comes from, ie, from factory farms. To focus on Rachel Allen's exploits is to miss the much bigger picture.

Less than a century ago there was no such thing as a factory farm.

Today, 50 billion (yes, billion) chickens are raised on factory farms worldwide. None of these birds can fulfil any of their natural impulses, such as nesting, perching, exploring their environment, forming stable social units.

They live in windowless sheds for the duration of their genetically-altered short lives of 40 days. The sheds are getting bigger and bigger with every decade that passes.

Sheds containing 50,000 chickens is commonplace among the larger producers.

All factory-farmed birds are fed a cocktail of drugs -- as not to do so would almost certainly result in the rapid spread of disease across the farm.

About 5pc of them will die prematurely, mainly from heart seizure, respiratory ailments, or because the excessive weight of their bodies are too much for their brittle-bone legs to support them.

In these cases, which are many, the birds simply collapse, are unable to reach food or water, and are either trampled on or die from stress and/or exhaustion. Three in every four chickens experience some degree of walking impairment, while one in four will have significant trouble walking at all.

This is not a snapshot of a factory farm. To describe properly what takes place on a factory farm would require a much longer letter than this, but it does, I hope, give some idea of what is, by any common-sense animal welfare standards (as opposed to the actual welfare laws laid down by the EU), an utterly unacceptable way to raise any animal.

The industry is incredibly powerful and uses its muscle at every turn.

Factory farms have become so big, so prevalent (they are continuing to grow at an exponential rate still, especially across the Far East and China), that it is only a matter of time before the ugliness within spills out into the wider world in the form of a virulent virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts a pandemic; it cannot say when this will happen, it can only say that it will.

The probability is that avian flu will be the source. This is not a personal opinion, it is the opinion of the WHO itself.

Future historians will find it difficult to understand how we allowed the industrialisation of farm animals on such a vast and unsustainable scale.

Gerry Boland
Keadue, Co Roscommon

Irish Independent