Highly pathogenic avian influenza is a recurring phenomenon in the poultry and egg industries. The current outbreak in the US, which began in February, has antecedents in 2015, 2006, and 2003. Low pathogenic avian flu outbreaks in chicken and turkey flocks are routine events involving the mass culling of millions of birds.
On July 21, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reported that since February, 40 million birds from 391 flocks in 37 states have had the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus. Taxpayers fund the killing of these infected birds through USDA indemnity programs like the Commodity Credit Corporation.
Understandably, most people do not envision the slaughter of thousands of birds dying together in a single facility from suffocation and heat stroke. The occasional glimpse of a truckload of dead chickens on their way to burial or a rendering plant seldom registers unless we are poultry workers, animal advocates, or investigators at an affected farm site.
This year, two separate investigations exposed the gruesome process of VSD plus and its effect on individual birds subjected to the method.
In April, the animal advocacy group Direct Action Everywhere released an investigative video showing the killing of 5 million caged hens by ventilation shutdown at Rembrandt Farms in Iowa following an outbreak of avian influenza there. Investigators found hens “being literally roasted alive – still in their cages, running loose in the facility’s industrial sheds, even buried alive.”
Also in April, the advocacy group Animal Outlook released a video based on 10 hours of footage taken by researchers at North Carolina State University of a 2016 experiment funded by the US Poultry and Egg Association to study the effects of VSD plus on chickens. The footage shows hens enclosed individually in ventilation shutdown boxes with windows to observe each hen as she died. Animal Outlook attorney, Will Lowrey, who obtained the footage through public records requests, said the suffering of the hens in the boxes was “extremely profound,” according to an article in the Intercept.
These revelations have swelled the number of veterinarians and animal welfare groups urging the AVMA to stop condoning ventilation shutdown, in keeping with the Veterinarian’s Oath from AVMA’s website, to protect animal health and welfare, prevent and relieve animal suffering, and uphold the principles of veterinary medical ethics.
So far, the AVMA has equivocated by condoning the use of VSD plus “in constrained circumstances,” effectively abandoning the birds to commercial expediency. Many chickens, turkeys, and ducks have died of the avian flu virus on factory farms; millions more have been killed without evidence of infection.
Although the AVMA cannot mandate or prohibit any method for euthanizing farmed animals, the AVMA’s recommendation against a particular procedure carries industry weight. We believe the AVMA has a moral responsibility toward these trapped and helpless animals, and that this responsibility should transcend an accommodation of commercial priorities.
Excerpted: ‘One Major Way We Can Reduce the Suffering of Animals Raised for Food’.Karen Davis, "Protecting animals," The News. 2022-07-29.
Keywords: Social sciences , Poultry workers , Animal welfare , Animal suffering , Veterinarian , North Carolina , United States , VSD , AVMA