Saturday, May 7, 2011

3.2 Million Dead Complicate Tornado Recovery

According to the Wall Street Journal, ravaged chicken production facilities in Alabama are complicating recovery from the tornados that recently ripped through the southeast. In addition to more than 300 people that were killed and widespread infrastructure damage, it is now estimated that more than 3.2 million chickens were killed by the twisters in Alabama alone.

The article Twisters Pummel Poultry Industry notes that Alabama produces about 1 in 8 chickens nationally. The WSJ lists numerous problems beyond the loss animals and production facilities:
Wall Street Journal image of survivors among wreckage

• Some birds that survived are wandering on the loose

• Power shortages are crippling mills that normally deal with the waste

• Water food and electric (for cooling) shortages put birds remaining alive at risk

• Public health concerns as the volume of rotting chickens overwhelms incineration facilities

Media sources have understandably focused on the loss of human life, but most people would be shocked to learn of the ten thousand fold greater loss of life, albeit chickens. The poultry loss highlights the risks inherent in concentrating animal operations (AKA CAFO or Confined Animal Feeding Operations), first in a few states, and secondly in poultry houses that, according to the New York Times, can hold up to 30,000 chickens. The Times reports that at least 714 such houses have been damaged or destroyed by the recent tornados.

Had chicken production been distributed in smaller, decentralized facilities closer to markets, the initial damage would have been much less and the resulting problems would have been easier to deal with. Backyard chicken advocates have argued that more smaller flocks contribute to improved food security -- recent events in Alabama suggest this may well be true.

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