Dairy cattle

Us Bird Flu Outbreak: Factory Farming Is a Hotbed for Pandemics

FOUR PAWS urges WHO member states to tackle the root causes of zoonotic diseases in pandemic agreement


Vienna, 5 April 2024 – The recent bird flu outbreak in dairy cows in the United States raises serious concerns. For the first time, dairy cattle in six US states were infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1. It is also a first, that the virus was transmitted from cow to human, as the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed this week that a person in contact with dairy cows had tested positive for the virus. Alarmed by these latest developments, global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS calls for a fortification of international efforts on pandemic prevention by tackling the drivers of outbreaks: the intensification of farming, wildlife farming and the loss of habitat for wild animals.

From Antarctica to dairy cattle in the United States, avian influenza is spanning the entire globe and infecting hundreds of species in birds but also mammals. Now the virus has made yet another alarming leap, suggesting even a possible transmission from cow to cow. The latest outbreak is a wake-up call that we urgently need a global commitment to pandemic prevention. We are running out of time to stop viruses like the avian influenza from spiraling out of control. FOUR PAWS is calling on WHO member states to seize the momentum and tackle the underlying root causes of pandemics. The One Health approach needs to be deeply anchored in the Pandemic Treaty, as public health and animal welfare are interdependent. The majority of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, yet their drivers are clearly manmade. Intensive indoor farming, wildlife farming and habitat destruction have been identified as major culprits for the spillover of diseases. The recent outbreak shows once more that factory farming is a real hotbed for pandemics and that we need to drastically reduce and rethink animal farming

Wendla Beyer, Policy Officer at FOUR PAWS

The Pandemic Treaty is an international instrument for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, it is currently under negotiation and will be finalised in May 2024 at the World Health Assembly of the WHO. About 75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonoses, i.e. transmissible between animals and humans.

The excessive number of animals in factory farms, kept in crammed, stressful and unhygienic conditions, is a major contributor to the transmission, circulation and mutation of avian influenza viruses. Transitioning to smaller farms with higher animal welfare and phasing out high-risk practices can lower disease risks, limit culling and animal suffering, and reduce economic losses. For example, 485,000 mink, foxes and raccoon dogs were mass killed in Finland in 2023, and 141 million poultry died or were euthanized worldwide in 2022 due to H5N.

Vera Mair PR International Officer

Vera Mair

PR International Officer


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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org

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