Dangerous Avian Flu Outbreak Prompts Call for Suspension of All Pigeon-Racing Activities

Birds, Humans at Risk When Lost Pigeons Mingle With Infected Chickens

For Immediate Release:
July 31, 2015

Catie Cryar 202-483-7382

St. Paul, Minn. – As a strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5) sweeps much of the country, PETA sent letters to various state officials, including one to Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture David J. Frederickson calling on him to explicitly include the suspension of pigeon racing in the ban on bird exhibitions at county fairs and other gatherings of birds in the state.

Deemed “the largest animal health emergency in this country’s history” by Dr. John Clifford of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, this outbreak of H5 has killed 48 million birds in the U.S.—including almost 9 million in Minnesota. According to Dr. Thomas Elam, president of the consulting group FarmEcon LLC, the economy-wide losses to date total $3.3 billion.

“The way to curb the spread of bird flu is to put a stop to all major sources of transmission, and that includes stopping pigeons from being raced during an outbreak,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “For the health and safety of animals and human beings, these races need to be suspended.”

As the virus rapidly spreads from one farm to another, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reports that the presence of free-flying birds in poultry houses is a potential mode of transmission. Critically, just 1 gram of contaminated manure can contain enough of the virus to infect 1 million birds. Sen. Al Franken has said, “When wild bird migrations resume in the fall, there is a very real possibility that avian flu will return, and we need to make sure that producers are able to manage that risk.” Minnesota should therefore require that all pigeon-racing activities—including, but not limited to, training, trading, and transport through the state—be suspended because of health concerns.

Pigeon races—which pit thousands of small birds against the elements and predators—often leave more than 60 percent of the animals lost or dead and could contribute to an already devastating epidemic when exhausted or lost birds land on contaminated farms in search of food and water. And the dangers to pigeons don’t stop there: Birds who return from races but consistently finish out of the money are typically killed by suffocation, drowning, or manual decapitation.

PETA’s letter to Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture David J. Frederickson is available upon request. For more information, please visit PETA.org.

For Media: Contact PETA's
Media Response Team.


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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind