A study that focused on French gamebird farms found that the crowded conditions in gamebird breeding facilities may be contributing to the spread of bird flu.

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Game restocking, which involves releasing millions of human-raised animals for hunters to kill, is helping to spread disease through hand-reared populations and possibly wild ones as well, according to a PLoS ONE study. The study focused on Mallard ducks, but prior research has warned against the restocking of other animals, such as rabbits and partridges…”Mallards are reared in high densities, share little ponds where influenza viruses can persist and their genetic diversity is very poor,” lead author Marion Vittecoq told Discovery News. “These conditions favor influenza virus infections and their spread in the game bird facilities.

According to the story, scientists sampling mallards from French game farms discovered a high infection rate of a certain strain of bird flu that was not present in wild ducks. The bird flu scientists detected is not as a virulent as other strains currently circulating round the world, but could easily mutate into a more dangerous form. The study’s authors urged proper monitoring of game farms and restocking operations for flu, which is required by law but apparently widely ignored both in Europe and in the United States.

While this study focuses on Europe, it does bring up an interesting question: many states, especially eastern states, stock pen-raised gamebirds for their upland seasons. In fact, in many areas put-and-take bird hunting is essentially the only way some guys will ever see an upland bird. But should we? With an increasing body of evidence linking big-game farms and high-fence operations to CWD outbreaks and now links between pen-raised gamebirds and bird flu, is it time to take a harder look at commercial hunting operations, or maybe start focusing on habitat for wild birds instead of stockers?

Thoughts? Reaction?