Dangerous Avian Flu Outbreak Prompts Call for Suspension of Pigeon Racing

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

For Immediate Release:
July 10, 2015

David Perle 202-483-7382

Des Moines, Iowa

As a strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5) sweeps much of the country—with close to 32 million turkeys and chickens killed by it on farms in Iowa alone—PETA sent a letter this morning to Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey calling on him to take preventive action by immediately suspending pigeon racing in the state. The 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. 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. PETA points out that adding to these numbers can only exacerbate the problem. The U.S. Department of Agriculture believes that H5 is most likely to strike again in September during fall migrations. This will coincide with the young-bird pigeon-racing season, which has the highest rate of lost pigeons.

“The way to curb the spread of H5 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 E. Newkirk. “For the health and safety of animals and human beings, these races need to be suspended.”

In 2010, PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to abuse in any way”—conducted an investigation of the American Racing Pigeon Union’s annual convention race that revealed that of the slightly more than 1,000 birds who entered the final race from Conway, Arkansas, to Oklahoma City, only 420 made it back by nightfall, leaving hundreds unaccounted for. It may be inevitable that the birds will intermix with waterfowl or one of 22 species of song or perching birds that are confirmed influenza reservoirs in the U.S. 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. One racer told PETA’s investigators that when starting out in pigeon racing, “The first thing you have to learn—how to kill pigeons.”

PETA’s letter to Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey is available upon request. For more information, please visit PETA.org.

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