Fourth-generation turkey farmer Brad Moline has been there before. In 2015, a ferocious outbreak of bird flu nearly wiped out his flock.
Sheds once full of noisy birds were suddenly silent. Farm employees were distraught over having to kill sick turkeys. The family business, which had been in operation since 1924, was in serious danger.
The farm recovered and now the virus is back, once again threatening poultry farms across the country. This time, it’s accompanied by another pernicious force: A wave of misinformation that avian flu isn’t real.
“It makes you want to bang your head against the wall,” Moline said, referring to Facebook groups where people insist that the flu is an invention, or perhaps a bioweapon. “I understand the frustration with handling COVID. I understand that the press is not trusted too much. I understand. But this is real.”
Although it poses few risks to humans, the global outbreak of bird flu has prompted farmers to cull millions of birds and could exacerbate rising food prices.
It also spawns wild claims like those that surfaced during the COVID-19 pandemic, confirming once again that conspiracy theories thrive in times of uncertainty and how the internet and a growing mistrust of science and institutions facilitate their spread.
Theories circulate on messaging services and on large platforms like Twitter. Some say the flu is fictional, a hoax used to justify depleting turkey stocks in order to drive up prices, either to wreak havoc on the world economy or to push people to go vegetarian.
“There is no ‘bird flu’ outbreak,” said one man on Reddit. “It’s the Covid of chickens.”
There are those who say that the flu is real, but that it has been genetically manipulated to make it a weapon, perhaps in order to force a new wave of lockdowns like those of COVID-19. A widely circulated version in India says that the cell phone towers of the 5G network are responsible for the virus.
Believers in these theories offer as proof the fact that the authorities responding to the outbreak use some of the technologies used with COVID.
“They do PCR tests on animals to detect bird flu. That should give you a clue as to what’s going on,” one Twitter user wrote in a post that has been retweeted thousands of times.
PCR tests have been used routinely in medicine, biology, and by law enforcement for decades. Its creator won the Nobel Prize in 1993.
The reality of the outbreak is much simpler than many believe, but it has devastating consequences for birds and the people who make a living from their offspring.
Farmers in states like Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota have already killed millions of birds to prevent the spread of the flu. Zoos across the nation are keeping their exotic birds indoors to protect their animals, and authorities are asking people not to feed the birds in their yards.
The first human infection of N5N1 in the United States was confirmed last year in Colorado: It was from an inmate who worked on a farm as part of his rehabilitation program.
Most human infections are the product of direct contact with infected birds, which means that the risk to the general population is minimal, but experts are still closely monitoring the virus, according to Keith Poulsen, director of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, an agency that studies animal diseases in part to protect the state’s agricultural activities.
“I assure you this is serious,” Poulsen told the Associated Press. “We’re not making stuff up.”
While details vary, conspiracy theories surrounding avian flu reflect a mistrust of authorities and institutions, as well as a suspicion that millions of doctors, scientists, veterinarians, journalists and officials around the world can no longer be trusted. the world.
“People already know that they have been repeatedly lied to and corrupted by the drug companies by the federal government and the mainstream media,” said Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopath who has made numerous false claims about vaccines, masks and the coronavirus.
Surveys indicate that trust in various institutions, including the press, has declined in recent years, as has trust in science.
Conspiracy theories tend to flourish in times of social upheaval, according to John Jackson, dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
Before the advent of the Internet, there were probably a lot of people who questioned things, Jackson said. But they didn’t have many opportunities to connect with like-minded people or spread their ideas.
Now, in the age of the Internet and social media, it’s easier to spread such ideas, which give people a sense of control in a rapidly changing world, Jackson said.
“There isn’t an event on this planet that doesn’t lend itself to conspiracy theories,” Jackson said.
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Avian flu also generates conspiracy theories