Shocking new findings have been revealed in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request Animal Justice Project sent to the Animals and Plant Health Agency (APHA), revealing that the UK government has wasted over £44 million of taxpayers’ hard-earned money on bailing out poultry farmers via the Bird Flu Compensation Scheme over the past five years.
Living through our worst ever bird flu outbreak, the handouts are increasing year on year, jumping from £2,604,083 in 2021 to a staggering £41,508,804 in 2022. Over 7.48 million captive birds have lost their lives to the H5N1 strain in the UK, from the virus itself or culls in response to outbreaks, between October 2021 and January 2023, equivalent to the deaths of 17,000 sentient individuals every day.
The true cost of the hand-outs isn’t just millions of pounds worth of the nations’ taxes. Approximately 140 million birds worldwide have already experienced agonising deaths because of bird flu over the past year, mainly in mass culls that are compensated so farmers can replace them with more animals, also capable of spreading bird flu further.
The World Health Organisation has warned that that 150 million humans across the globe could lose their lives to a pandemic causing over 20 times more deaths than Covid-19 has if it mutates into a strain more transmissible to humans, having already been identified in mammals including foxes and otters who have fed on infected birds in the UK. Yet our government, who are responsible for protecting public health, are actively accelerating the virus’ development by propping up the poultry industry, which perpetuates its development.
The average size of payments under the scheme last year was an enormous £165,374 each, the majority of these falling into the pockets of just 251 poultry farmers who already turn over massive profits operating vast Intensive Poultry Units (IPUs), where tens to hundreds of thousands of distressed birds are crammed into each dirty farm shed. Only cleaned after birds are slaughtered at a few weeks old, IPUs are breeding grounds for zoonotic diseases like bird flu, with each bird capable of transferring the virus to 100 other birds via bodily fluids like faeces, which they spend their miserable lives lying in.
More than 400,000 free-living birds in the UK have also fallen victim to the fatal H5N1 strain of bird flu, with the British Trust for Ornithology likening the ecological damage of bird flu to that caused by DDT pesticides in the 1950s and 1960s. With a fatality rate of 90% in birds, avian populations simply can’t withstand the continued spread of H5N1.
Over 40 million birds have failed to survive the UK’s steep decline in biodiversity over the past 50 years already. The main driver in habitat destruction has been the expansion of highly inefficient animal farming, with 85% of farmlands used to rear animals despite only providing 32% of consumers’ caloric intake. Instead of propping up this industry harming birds in farms and the countryside, the government must meet Animal Justice Project’s demands, made by fearless activists who scaled Defra HQ in December, to call for the urgent implementation of a plant-based food system.
The Office for Budget Responsibility have forecasted the steepest decline in living standards on record, with the number of people living in poverty in the UK expected to skyrocket by over 3 million between 2021 and 2023 due to Covid and the rising cost of living. A bird flu pandemic would only exacerbate this, and it’s up to our government to subsidise the farming of produce, as recommended in the National Food Strategy, rather than pump £44 million into animal agriculture. This would make a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables and grains affordable for all whilst eradicating the avian influenza birds are facing, and which humans will experience catastrophic effects from themselves.
We must let the UK government know that we do not support the distribution of our taxes towards upholding animal agriculture, an industry which perpetuates the spread of zoonotic diseases whilst exploiting sentient beings en-mass. The suffering felt by animals in farms and slaughterhouses is Off the Scales, and it only worsens with the emergence and development of viruses like bird flu. We need to educate consumers of the consequences their eating habits have, and empower them to fight for a safer and kinder food system by purchasing only vegan products.
For the animals.