For The Umpteenth Time,
Geese Are Not A Health Threat
BY SUE RUSSELL
Signaling its intention to round-up and slaughter Canada geese, the Navesink River Municipalities Committee has recklessly "declared war" on the species as a "major health threat" as an implied prime source of two common waterborne parasites, Giardia sp. and Cryptosporidium.
Committee Chairman John Simpson suggested sending the geese to slaughterhouses and giving the carcasses to food banks. "Once the community understands" Mr. Simpson told The Asbury Park Press, "we can do something."
But a big part of the problem is the information that has reached the community. Interests in the County seem hell-bent on killing federally protected Canada geese but are required to show that the geese are "seriously injurious" before booking the abattoirs. Where no requisite harm remotely exists one appears to have been manufactured in violation of federal law. Let's call it an end run around the inconvenient Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The best-kept secret in Monmouth County is this: According to state and university public health experts including the New Jersey Department of Health, goose feces are fairly innocuous, posing little or no health risks to humans. Once again, senior expert opinion strongly contradicts the alarmist anti-goose campaign run by Monmouth County Health Officer Lester W. Jargowsky.
Dr. Timothy Ford, professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and author of "Microbiological Safety of Drinking Water: United States and Global Perspective 1999," states: "Numbers of Cryptosporidium oocysts associated with Canada geese and waterfowl in general are likely to be minimal, unimportant relative to the potential for oocysts shed from other forms of wildlife and humans. In my mind, there is no possibility that the Canada goose will ever be a major route of infection. To suggest otherwise is utterly ludicrous and you can quote me."
Utterly ludicrous and presented as fact in Monmouth County.
And David S. Adam, Coordinator of Health Projects, Vector Control, Infectious and Zoonotic Disease Program for the State of New Jersey Department of Health, writes: "Giardia lamblia, as well as Cryptosporidium, is most commonly transmitted to humans by person-to-person fecal-oral contamination or by water fecally contaminated by humans or other mammals. Infection is usually asymptomatic with children infected more frequently than adults, often in the day-care setting. In summary, the role of Canada geese in the transmission of Cryptospordium or Giardia to humans is not well established, but appears to be small compared with other modes of transmission."
Mr. Adams adds that Canada geese have been wrongly blamed for beach closings: "A number of beach closings including several in New Jersey have been attributed to this cause [high fecal coliform counts attributed to Canada geese]. However, research on this subject (including surveillance conducted in New Jersey) has usually found very low levels of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella sp. in the feces of waterfowl not exposed to human sewage effluent." Another false alarm.
Dr. Milton Friend, former director, Wildlife Research Center Water Fowl Disease U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is adamant: "On occasion we have been wading in that stuff [feces], dead birds up to our elbows... there is not a single, documented case of any of us coming down with any kind of a disease problem as a result of Canada geese... we do not have a human health situation, not in the urban goose, not in the wild goose, not in the captive geese that we have also worked with. We do have a lot of diseases out there that can affect people. Most of them come from different places and do not come from the Canada goose and I'll leave you with that."
Giardia sp., is common throughout the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that prevalence is higher in areas of poor sanitation and in institutions where children are not toilet-trained. The CDC lists "institutions and day-care centers as the principle mode of spread. " Principle reservoirs are listed as "humans, possibly beaver and domestic animals" -- geese aren't even mentioned.
In animals Crytosporidiosis is found almost exclusively in newborn puppies and kittens. Even then, "there has been no transmission to humans." (CDC, June 1999.)
In the recent spate of publicity, the parasites have been associated only with geese, even when there is no record of infection to humans. How the Canada goose metamorphosed into a "major health threat" is a case study in manipulation of public -- your -- attitudes. It was done through a series of wrong inferences, insinuation, exaggeration, and omission. It appears to be [a] full-time, on-going project at taxpayer expense.
What has been going on transcends Canada geese and goes to the heart of good government, not to mention the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. A tiny fiefdom in Freehold has gone unchecked and unchallenged for too long. We have some of the answers. It's past time legislators and attorneys started asking the right questions. In the meantime, the Canada goose -- majestic, intelligent, loyal beyond all bounds to to mate and offspring is up against it. Abandoned by bird snobs, overproduced by game managers, set-up by bureaucrats, hated by a vocal minority; all are piling on, and its future looks bleak. If you believe in lost causes, this is your bird.
The C.A.S.H. Courier
From the Fall 1999 / Winter 2000 Issue
Please visit C.A.S.H. for more animal articles.