Amid bird flu outbreak, activists slam poultry culling methods – InForum
BRAINERD – This spring’s bird flu outbreak has sparked further protests from animal welfare campaigners over the destruction of large numbers of poultry.
Several groups have raised objections to the methods used to kill chickens or turkeys once they have been exposed to the deadly virus. In particular, they say a method called shutting down ventilation – recommended as a last resort – is cruel and inhumane.
The protests have grabbed the headlines here in Minnesota. During an April 12 Timberwolves game at Target Center, a woman stuck her hand to the ground on the field, wearing a t-shirt that read “Glen Taylor Roasts Live Animals.”
On social media, she said the stunt was meant to draw attention to the “mass murder” of chickens at Rembrandt Enterprises, an Iowa egg farm owned by Taylor, who also owns the Timberwolves.
Since then, activists have halted two more games, including a Timberwolves playoff game last Saturday when a woman rushed onto the Target Center field before security guards tackled her.
A California organization called Direct Action Everywhere says the protests are trying to raise awareness of poultry killing methods used to prevent the spread of H5N1, a strain of highly pathogenic bird flu that has already affected more than 2.7 million turkeys and of chickens in Minnesota.
H5N1 avian flu is highly contagious and is spread by wild birds. Poultry such as turkeys and chickens that contract the virus quickly become ill and die.
When a positive case of the virus is confirmed, federal law gives the US Department of Agriculture the authority to quickly “depopulate” or kill the birds in that flock – ideally within 24 hours – to prevent the virus from spreading. to other farms.
“The virus moves so quickly from bird to bird,” said Dr. Beth Thompson, state veterinarian and executive director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. And the mortality rate of this virus for poultry is close to 100%, she said.
“By depopulating, we’re ending the suffering of those birds that are still in the barn, so hopefully we’re not extending that period of time that they’re alive and suffering,” Thompson said.
Euthanasia vs depopulation
Although the terms euthanasia and depopulation are often used interchangeably, there are differences between the two.
Mass depopulation – what is happening now in Minnesota and other states in response to the bird flu epidemic – occurs when large numbers of animals must be destroyed quickly due to an emergency, such as ‘a sickness.
Euthanasia, on the other hand, helps an animal move on to death in the least painful and stressful way possible. It’s a process that many pet owners have gone through in a veterinary clinic.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, the umbrella organization for veterinarians in the United States, has issued separate guidelines for euthanasia and depopulation.
The 2019 guidelines state that depopulation should only be carried out in response to serious emergencies and that animals should not be depopulated under ordinary circumstances.
They state that depopulation techniques, unlike euthanasia, “may not guarantee that the deaths animals face are painless and without distress.”
However, every effort should be made to ensure animals are handled humanely and experience rapid loss of consciousness or brain function, the guidelines say.
In Minnesota, the main method used to quickly destroy poultry – usually turkeys – raised on barn floors is to pump in a water-based foam, which smothers them.
In some barns where foam isn’t a feasible option, a small number of birds are placed in a crate or cart, and carbon dioxide is pumped in, Thompson said.
The currently criticized method of stopping ventilation is to cut off the airflow in the barn, which overheats the birds. The USDA and AVMA also recommend adding supplemental heat or carbon dioxide to speed up the process, a guideline that Thompson says is still followed in Minnesota.
The shutdown plus method is only used in the state as a last resort, and only with the involvement of the US Department of Agriculture, Thompson said.
It has been used in a small number of Minnesota cases during the current outbreak in areas with high poultry density to prevent the spread of the virus to other farms, she said, or where no other option was available to destroy the birds within 24 hours.
The AVMA guidelines state that the most compelling reason for using ventilation shutdown when all other methods have been ruled out is that, when done correctly, it allows for faster death, “eliminating the risk of birds dying over a longer period of time due to devastating distress and disease.
Matt Johnson, press coordinator for Direct Action Everywhere, called the method used to kill laying hens on Rembrandt farms in Iowa “brutal”.
He said the media showed the animals languishing for hours in excessive heat.
“We are raising awareness of this horrific animal abuse, which is the inevitable result of factory farming when we mass confine animals in this way,” Johnson said. He said close confinement also promotes the spread of viral diseases and increases the risk of mutation.
The killings highlight the problems of an agricultural system “where animals are seen as mere profit machines,” Johnson said.
Depopulation efforts are really tough on poultry farmers, farm workers and backyard flock owners, Thompson said. The only benefit is to eliminate the disease, she said.
“That’s the ultimate goal here,” she said. “I feel for these farmers. It’s just a horrible disease, absolutely horrible. And for some of our cases to be these individual families, it’s so difficult.
Thompson said she welcomed the discussion of response methods. She said the latest outbreak will likely prompt a review of the AVMA guidelines, which she called a “living, breathing document.”
“I think vets want to have this ongoing discussion,” she said.