On April 1, 2007, a University of Delaware researcher named George Malone was asked to exterminate thousands of turkeys using firefighting foam on a farm in West Virginia. The reason given was that the birds were infected with the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, H5N2. According to an article in Lancaster Farming (04/12/07), a total of 15,000 turkeys confined in four different houses were subsequently exterminated with the foam.
That the birds died a horrible death can be inferred from Malone’s description of how the kill crew “struggled with their equipment,” faced “foam quality issues, pump failure and worker fatigue.” In addition, he said, “there was not a consistent single brand of foam.” In one case, the foam “was 20 years old and had ‘sludge’ in the bottom of the container.”
In November 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved firefighting foam to kill chickens and turkeys en masse in cases of infectious disease outbreaks, despite severe criticism of the method. Poultry scientist, Dr. Ian Duncan, of the University of Guelph, in Ontario, called the foam “a horribly inhumane way to kill birds. You can’t tell if they are suffering or vocalizing because they are covered up.”
A board certified veterinary toxicologist expressed concern that the chemical ingredients of the foam would cause irritation of the birds’ eyes, mucous membranes, and skin during the time that it took them to suffocate to death.
In a report to the USDA, Dr. Mohan Raj, a scientist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, wrote on behalf of The Humane Society of the United States that “the birds appear to be killed either by suffocation or drowning.” He noted that a physiological definition of suffocation is “the physical separation of the upper respiratory tract from the atmospheric air, which would happen if the birds were buried alive.”
An article in Poultry USA last December said the foam is intended to obstruct birds’ upper respiratory tract including the trachea, and should result in the death of 95 percent of the birds within seven minutes, and 100 percent of the flock within 15 minutes of submergence.
At a USDA meeting in June 2006, on “Methods of Mass Depopulation of Poultry,” slides showed what one researcher called “a lot of escape behavior for 4 to 6 minutes” by chickens struggling against being buried alive under the foam. This meeting, which was attended by United Poultry Concerns president Karen Davis, indicated that, despite a formal request for comments on the procedure, USDA officials had already decided to approve the use of foam, regardless of animal welfare concerns.
“The idea is simply to forget the birds and their suffering and call it ‘humane,’” said Davis. “The use of firefighting foam to exterminate birds, whose neurophysiology is virtually the same as humans’, is cruel and unethical. Unfortunately, when it comes to animals used for agricultural purposes, restraints on human behavior are lifted. Imagine putting humans through this horrible death and then saying afterwards that you were ‘pleased with the results.’”
For more information visit http://www.upc-online.org/poultry_diseases/71106usda.html