Archive article from The Socialist Issue 474
Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/2007/474/pp43.htm
What we think
Bird flu outbreak
Profits put before health
THE BIRD flu outbreak at Bernard Matthews' Holton plant in Suffolk has again exposed the government's compliance with big business to put the profits of the food processing industry before people's health.
Vets confirmed on 3 February that sick birds on Bernard Matthews' turkey farm were infected with the H5N1 flu virus. Matthews then spent a whole week denying any possible link between this outbreak and two outbreaks of H5N1 in geese in Hungary in January, before admitting that poultry products were transported from Hungary to Suffolk after the January outbreaks.
Matthews is refusing to give detailed information on his supply chain and even took a further batch of poultry from Hungary after it was confirmed that turkeys were dying of the H5N1 virus at his Holton plant. Claims that his plants are 'bio-secure' were shattered when workers said there were open containers of poultry remains in his processing plant.
For months, the government had been blaming wild birds for spreading the virus. Then when New Labour politicians knew that the outbreak might have been caused by a delivery of chicken breasts from Matthews' Hungary plant to Holton, The Observer revealed that they delayed for several days before admitting it publicly. That paper also mentioned that the government document discussing this consignment was marked 'commercial in confidence' to protect the £3.4 billion poultry industry (Observer 11.02.07).
The big businesses that dominate farming have close links with the government body that is supposed to regulate them - Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs). Back in 1996, under a Tory government, Defra delayed informing the public about the dangers of BSE (mad cow disease).
Now New Labour is doing likewise; trying to protect big business at our expense. So far the government has not announced any poultry import bans from affected countries, even though a number of other countries have banned imports of British poultry. Neither have any products been withdrawn from supermarkets, despite the Food Standards Agency saying it cannot yet confirm (at the time of writing) whether infected meat is on sale.
Bernard Matthews' worldwide business had a turnover of £457 million last year and he personally has estimated wealth of £300 million. Yet while Matthews will be reimbursed by the government for all turkeys culled, workers at his plants have not been offered compensation by the government for any losses they suffer, or proper medical care. Workers in the industry should receive full compensation for as long as necessary.
THE FOOD business has been globally industrialised and linked. Packed sheds, where turkeys and chickens are reared by the large agribusiness companies cause distress to the birds and allow many diseases to spread.
Like cars which are assembled in one country with parts produced on the other side of the world, turkey parts and even live birds are shipped from one country to be reared or processed in another.
These agribusiness companies should be taken into public ownership and democratically run under workers' control and management to produce healthy, affordable food, decent jobs for those working for them and better conditions for the livestock.
Neither can research into viruses like H5N1 be entrusted to the profit-driven drugs industries and agribusiness conglomerates.
Avian flu remains a risk. In its present form it has killed 164 people internationally and is a growing problem particularly in parts of Indonesia and sub Saharan Africa. If it mutates to a human form it could spread among people worldwide. Yet very little financial aid to combat its spread is being given by the 'advanced' countries to countries like Indonesia.
This avian flu outbreak is yet another urgent warning of what happens when the production and processing of food and drugs research are in the hands of big business.
Public ownership of the large food industries and pharmaceutical research companies is a vital necessity as part of a socialist world with a planned economy.