ABC Movie Has Chicken Industry Crying Foul

The ABC television network on Tuesday will air a made-for-TV movie about a potential bird flu pandemic titled Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America. Alex Chadwick speaks with Richard Lobb, the self-described "Merchant of Drumsticks" and communications director for the National Chicken Council. The council has created a campaign to combat alleged fear mongering by the movie.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From science to a mixture of science and fiction. Tonight, ABC TV will air a disaster movie about an imaginary bird flu pandemic.

(Soundbite of movie “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America”)

Unidentified Female (Actor): Respiratory distress is quite severe.

Unidentified Male (Actor): Don't tell me (unintelligible).

Unidentified Female: There's a lot more than eight patients.

Unidentified Male Actor: Twenty-five in the last 12 hours.

Unidentified Female Actor: Which means we've lost any chance of containment.

BRAND: Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America has ruffled some feathers in the poultry industry. I couldn't resist that one.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Earlier, I spoke with Richard Lobb. He's the communications director of the National Chicken Council.

Mr. Lobb, The Wall Street Journal reported last week that you tried to get ABC to change the name of this movie from Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America to Pandemic in America, but they wouldn't do it?

Mr. RICHARD LOBB (Communications Director, National Chicken Council): The reason we made that request is very simply that bird flu, as it exists right now, is really just a animal disease. It is only very weakly transmissible to humans.

The movie is all about a human disease that is apparently very, very readily transmissible to humans. The guy in the movie just shakes hands with somebody else and before you know it, they're both falling down dead.

The avian influenza virus that does exist, the H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, is a disease of birds. I mean, we do have a pandemic going on right now, but it's a pandemic among chickens and turkeys and other domestic poultry. It's not a pandemic among humans.

CHADWICK: Let's just note in ABC's defense, that in some publicity material for this film they say it was meticulously researched.

Mr. LOBB: Well, I think it is interesting to - I know that they say they meticulously researched it, but that doesn't mean they followed the research or actually used the research in any way.

We've had two pandemics, in 1957 and again in 1968, the so-called Hong Kong Flu and the Asian Flu. A pandemic, you know, is just an epidemic that has spread over a wide geographical area. It doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be a devastating, falling down dead type of virus, the way the 1918 certainly was, in some respects.

CHADWICK: I'm sure it's not so good for the National Chicken Council to have ABC putting on a film about people getting a disease from chickens and birds. But still, it might get people to think about the possibility of pandemics and how diseases of all - maybe there is some good in it.

Mr. LOBB: I think our problem with the ABC movie is the least of ABC's problems. It's getting pretty devastating reviews, and newspapers across the country are highly critical of it. So apparently, whatever it is, it's not particularly well done.

I think the public needs to be aware that there's always a possibility for this, that influenza pandemics do occur from time to time. There is no cyclicality to it. You can go 11 years between a pandemic as we did in 1957 and 1968. Or you can go something like, you know, over 100 years. It's - it seems to occur at random.

But, right now, this virus just does not exist, and there's just nothing to worry about at the present time.

CHADWICK: Richard Lobb, Communications Director for the National Chicken Council. Mr. Lobb, thank you.

Mr. LOBB: Okay, thank you very much.

CHADWICK: And you can learn how to protect your family from a real outbreak of avian flu and the government's plan to prevent all that and find that terrific piece we did on it last week on our website, npr.org.

And DAY TO DAY continues in a moment.

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