Producers Seek to Use 'Cruelest' Method Amid Bird Flu Outbreak

Animal welfare advocates say ventilation shutdown is 'basically cooking animals alive'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 9, 2022 5:25 PM CST
Producers Seek to Use 'Cruelest' Method Amid Bird Flu Outbreak
Chickens walk in a fenced pasture at an organic farm in Iowa.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Poultry producers fighting the ongoing bird flu outbreak want the government to make it easier to kill flocks using a method animal advocates have described as the cruelest one available. The US Department of Agriculture is being lobbied to make Ventilation Shutdown Plus—closing off barn vents so birds die of suffocation or heat stroke—a "preferred" option, meaning producers would no longer be required to get permission to use it, the Guardian reports. Under current regulations, producers who want to "depopulate" barns need to show that they can't use the two current preferred methods, killing the birds with carbon dioxide or suffocating them with firefighting foam. Producers say there are carbon dioxide challenges and using foam poses challenges.

Animal advocates say the method, which has been used to kill many of the almost 50 million birds that have died in this year's outbreak, is preferred by producers because it is the "easiest and cheapest"—but it is "basically cooking animals alive." The method is banned in the European Union, where around 50 million birds have been culled amid the continent's worst-ever bird flu outbreak, per Reuters. In the US, the national associaton of state-level agriculture agencies has approved a measure seeking to make it a preferred method, though hundreds of veterinarians have asked the American Veterinary Medical Association, whose guidelines are used by the USDA to declare the method "not recommended," meaning it can't be used.

Poultry producers have defended the method as a fast way to stop the flu spreading. "Sometimes, in an emergency, foaming units and others cannot be secured quickly enough and the birds suffer longer if not euthanized immediately," Bill Mattos, the president of the California Poultry Federation, tells the Guardian. In Minnesota, where more than 3.6 million birds have been culled, farmers tell the StarTribune that the crisis, which has left many of them with eerily empty barns, have been devastating. Some farmers say that as with COVID-19, they are expecting the bird flu threat to become part of a "new normal." (More bird flu stories.)

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