A Cock or Two’ll Do!

It is now over six years since the Hong Kong government imposed a ban on keeping backyard poultry. This was in response to the bird flu scare that was sweeping the country at the time, and covers chickens, ducks, geese, quail and pigeons. The fine for disregarding the law is $100,000. The ban was in keeping with the recommendations of the FAO, whose Assistant Director-General said,
The backyard chicken is the big problem and the fight against bird flu must be waged in the backyard of the world’s poor.

Really? A report published in 2006 by Grain, a highly-respected ‘non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems’, gives a strikingly different perspective on the matter. There is actually very little firm evidence connecting backyard poultry with avian flu, although there is rather a lot of evidence which points the finger at intensive factory farming of poultry as being the root of the problem. Whilst surrounding countries, six or more years ago, suffered widespread outbreaks of avian flu, Laos had hardly any. Why? Well, the vast majority of backyard poultry was raised, sold and consumed locally, with very little contact between these farmers and commercial enterprises. Of the 45 cases of avian flu in the country, 42 were on commercial enterprises, with the remainder occurring on farms which were close to enterprises where outbreaks had occurred.

All of the outbreaks in Laos were in enterprises that received their chicks from Asia’s largest supplier of poultry and poultry feed, Charoen Pokphand (CP), of Thailand. The same was true of Burma. In Thailand itself CP totally dominates the whole industry, and it seems that there were strong links between CP and the outbreaks in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Turkey. However, CP would not allow their premises to be inspected by the government unless they agreed to follow procedures laid down by the company. Can you believe that! Big Biz decides what the government can and can’t do even when there is the fear of a pandemic taking off. Actually, it’s all too believable these days. Big Biz and its profits are sacrosanct, and mustn’t be interfered with.

Factory farming provides the ideal breeding ground for pathogens, and the Grain report shows very clearly that we should be worried about these large-scale enterprises rather than backyard poultry farmers. Indeed, as the report says, Backyard poultry is a solution, not the problem. Being able to keep three or four chickens would not only provide meat and eggs for families, but also a small income, and the manure could be composted and used to improve the soil in which vegetables could be grown. They can eat kitchen waste, and they keep down the number of harmful bugs in the garden. Read the whole of the Grain report:

http://www.grain.org/article/entries/22-fowl-play-the-poultry-industry-s-central-role-in-the-bird-flu-crisis

More recently, according to the Worldwatch Institute, there has been an upsurge in the number of people in the US who have flouted the law and started keeping chickens in their yards. This is in line with the tremendous growth in urban farming across the country. Some cities, such as Madison, Wisconsin, have repealed the law preventing people having backyard poultry, whilst New York has at least 30 community gardens raising poultry, mostly for eggs. These outbreaks of sanity are quite unprecedented, and I know I’m not alone in thinking this is precisely what needs to happen in Hong Kong. We need to ring the city with small-scale organic farms, replete with a handful of chickens, which would go a long way towards making HK more resilient as we face a future of highly unstable weather conditions and drastic shortages of cheap oil. These factors make it essential that the city drastically reduces its dependence on fossil fuels, and this means growing what we can locally instead of transporting everything in from the Mainland and further afield. Maybe it’s time to give this issue a fresh airing, and see if we can get a bit of sanity into this city too.

http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5900

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About transitionsl

I've been an English teacher for the best part of 30 years, teaching in England, Tanzania, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong. I've always been interested in nature and environmental issues, but it was the discovery of Peak Oil about five years ago that galvanised me into trying to help my local community to prepare for what will be a dramatically different world to the one many of us have been used to. I've been helping to run a transition group, following the guidelines created by Rob Hopkins's Transition Movement in the UK. This blog is an attempt to engage in discussion with a wider group of people in Hong Kong on the ways to transition from our current oil dependency to a state of fossil-free local resilience.
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