Home Ventilation system Reviews | Why do we accept the mass slaughter of animals due to heat stroke?

Reviews | Why do we accept the mass slaughter of animals due to heat stroke?

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Brian Collins is a faculty member at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and a veterinarian at Farm Sanctuary. Lauri Torgerson-White is an animal welfare scientist and research director at Farm Sanctuary.

Following this year’s bird flu outbreak, the Department of Agriculture ordered the culling of nearly 38 million chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese to stop the spread of the virus. The agency says this is an unfortunate necessity to protect uninfected birds living on US farms. But how we perform the task says a lot about who we are as a society.

Here’s the wrong way to do it: kill the birds en masse by subjecting them to heat stroke. Yet such inhumane treatment of animals is not only common, it is supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the organization that recommends best practices for the industry.

The mass slaughter technique, euphemistically known in the industry as Ventilation Shutdown Plus (VSD+), is brutal. It’s about sealing a barn full of birds, turning off the ventilation system and turning on the heating. As the temperature rises, the birds, which are already crowded to abnormally high densities, begin to pant, flap their wings and jump, as if trying to escape. They end up falling to the ground, thankfully unconscious. Most chickens suffer for up to two hours before succumbing to heat stroke.

The AVMA is not a regulatory body, but the industry uses its guidelines to justify the practice. Its guidelines classify methods of mass killing — or “depopulation,” as the organization calls it — into three categories: 1) preferred, 2) permitted in limited circumstances, and 3) not recommended. Methods that are “allowed in limited circumstances,” the organization says, should only be used “when the circumstances of the emergency are considered to limit the ability to reasonably implement a preferred method.” Constraints include, “but not limited to, constraints on zoonotic disease response time, human safety, depopulation efficiency, deployable resources, equipment, animal access, disruption of infrastructure and the risk of disease transmission”. The recommendation seems deliberately vague to allow industry to use these methods whenever the preferred methods are not easily implementable – which, it turns out, is most of the time.

Death by massive heatstroke, the most common technique used in this year’s avian outbreak, is particularly unconscionable because of the time animals must suffer before they die. The method has been used to kill pigs during supply chain disruptions that have occurred during covid-19 outbreaks at meatpacking facilities. A case study of nearly 250,000 pigs published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association found that the average time from the start of the process to the pigs being silent, and presumably dead, was about an hour. For some, the process took up to 83 minutes. More than 700 pigs still requiring manual killing afterwards. Undercover footage of the process at an Iowa pig farm shows the pigs screaming in distress with temperatures reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

If that’s not outrageous enough, consider this: taxpayer dollars are being used to carry out this practice. The Department of Agriculture has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on avian flu activities, including these massacres. Although the agency agreed that overcrowding of animals can increase flu transmission, it has not taken meaningful steps to prevent overcrowding.

Instead, the agency encourages farmers to “consider reducing the number of birds in poultry houses as part of their best management practices”. Additionally, he settled a lawsuit challenging his irresponsible avian flu response plan – brought by our organization, the Humane Society of the United States and Mercy For Animals – by agreeing to assess the plan’s environmental impacts and consider how killing and burying or burning millions of birds threatens wildlife, habitats, water and air quality, and human health.

There are some Americans, unfortunately, who will find it hard to care how death row animals are slaughtered. We implore them: Why should we accept such cruelty? Would they support the slaughter of cats and dogs in this tortuous way? We doubt it. As such, AMVA should denounce this practice and prioritize animal welfare.