Bill Maher’s Guest Eric Schlosser Sounds Alarm Over Next Potential Pandemic

Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images
Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

The next pandemic could be starting up in American dairies, according to investigative journalist and fast food expert Eric Schlosser.

The Fast Food Nation author, who is also producing a documentary about the fast food system in America, told Bill Maher that the sudden prevalence of bird flu in dairy farms was cause for alarm during his appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday night.

“We have avian influenza being spread by cows, and scientists had no idea until a few weeks ago that this influenza could even be in cows at all,” Schlosser began.

According to the CDC, a multi-state outbreak of bird flu in cows was first reported on March 25. As of Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported 42 herds across nine states had been affected.

Bird-to-mammal transmission is rare, the CDC said, but its appearance in cows could put more humans at risk of contraction. Only one person, a Texas dairy worker, has tested positive for bird flu since the outbreak and suffered mild symptoms. But there are a number of reasons why other cases might go unreported.

“What’s very concerning is right now, the federal government is not allowed to go into these mega areas that have ten thousand, twenty thousand, thirty thousand cows and test them for influenza,” Schlosser said. “The federal government can’t go into these mega dairies and test the workers, many of whom are undocumented and quite fearful of if they test positive.”

Schlosser added that the real problem with outbreak prevention was the resistance of big agriculture to allow federal health officials to investigate on their farms.

“You have big ag and big dairy companies preventing the CDC from investigating what could be a life threatening illness eventually to people,” Schlosser continued. “And it’s a perfect example of how public health is being threatened by private interests.”

Though the CDC has said the risk to the public is low, federal authorities on Friday put $200 million toward prevention to incentivize dairy farms to control the spread. That money would go toward testing dairy cows and dairy workers—who are most at risk of contracting the disease—as well as to provide a financial bubble to cover losses farms may take from contaminated milk.

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