United Poultry Concerns Fedruary 28, 2005

The Avian Flu Crisis in Canada: Ethics of Farmed-Animal Disease Control

By Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns

Keynote Presentation February 25, 2005

"Two Days of Thinking About Animals in Canada"

Brock University, St. Catherines, Ontario

February 24 & 25, 2005

Total Pages: 24

CONTENTS

1. Overview

2. Global Killing of Poultry

3. Mass Extermination Rationale

4. CFIA Response to the 2004 Avian Influenza Outbreak in British Columbia

5. Canadian Poultry Industry Forum October 27-28, 2004

6. Critical Response to the CFIA’s Report

7. Humane Slaughter?

8. Poultry Stunning and Slaughter: Current Science and Recommendations

9. Two Examples of the CFIA’s Inhumane Methods of Destroying Birds

10. Five Final Points Regarding CO2, Electricity, and Paralysis

11. Could Such Mass-Extermination Practices Be Justified If They Increased Vegetarianism?

12. Who Benefited From Exterminating Birds in California in the 1970s?

13. Who Benefited From Exterminating Birds in California in 2003?

14. An Open Letter to the Canadian Minister of Agriculture

15. Conclusion: The Gap Between Animal Welfare Science and Government/Industry Killing Practices

NOTES

REFERENCES

 

"The slaughter of those birds was horrendous. I have heard some really sickening stories, but of course, government and industry are telling everyone that it wasn’t even an issue." – Debra Probert, Executive Director of the Vancouver Humane Society (Correspondence November 2, 2005)

Overview

On April 5, 2004, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) ordered 19 million birds killed to control the avian influenza (AI) found in British Columbia on February 18 th (Muhtadie). The virus, which affects the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems of birds, has spread throughout the world over the past three years. In British Columbia, news that AI had infected some large poultry flocks in the Fraser Valley was followed by an announcement that all commercial and backyard flocks in the Fraser Valley were to be killed. Although three fourths of the birds were expected to test negative for the virus, even pet chickens who tested negative were slated to be, and subsequently were, "preemptively" destroyed (Hume). .

Governments in North America and affected Asian countries insist that the preemptive strike policy is necessary to control the disease, protect public health, and "save" the poultry and egg industries, but not everyone agrees. For example, Theresa Manavalan, a prominent Malaysian journalist, wrote in 2004: "But make no mistake, the pig is not the villain, neither is the chicken. It’s actually us. And our horrible farm practices, outdated agricultural policy and, most of all, reckless disregard of our ecology and environment" (Manavalan).

Similar criticisms have been voiced in the US and Canada. In Canada, a national government/industry AI forum in British Columbia in October 2004 had "nothing on the agenda about animal welfare," according to Debra Probert, Executive Director of the Vancouver Humane Society, who attended the forum. Likewise, animal welfare and animal suffering are absent from the CFIA’s "lessons learned" review of its management of the 2004 AI outbreak. Like the US and Asia, Canada is treating avian influenza and its control by relentless mass- extermination procedures as an inevitable part of business as usual. In fact, pre-slaughter destruction ("culling") of individual birds and poultry flocks to regulate economics is a standard industry practice.

However, the mass-extermination of sentient individuals transcends this raw utilitarian calculus. Extermination is an ethical issue involving personal decisionmaking, social policy, and media reportage regarding the fact(s), numbers, and methods of the killings and the effort by government and industry to ignore the animals and delegitimize their advocates in framing the discussion. Public reactions to the mass-exterminations have ranged from extreme distress and anger to the proposition that the exterminations could be justified if public outrage prompted by media coverage of the killings would increase the number of vegetarians. The practice of exterminating millions of birds to control disease outbreaks for which human beings are responsible calls for an examination. The primary focus of this discussion is on Canada.

Global Killing of Poultry

The number of animals who suffer and die for human food is beyond imagining. Globally, the slaughter of farmed animals in 2003 amounted to more than 50 billion individuals, not counting any types of aquatic animals (FAW 2004b). These estimates, which are compiled and provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, are based on reports from more than 210 countries and territories. Of the 46 billion animals slaughtered in 2003, 45.9 billion chickens accounted for 93 percent of all types of farmed animals in the FAO database, followed by 2.3 billion ducks.

In addition to slaughter for food, hundreds of millions of birds are destroyed by the food industry each year to dispose of those who are unwanted, such as male chicks in the egg industry and slow-growing birds in the meat industry, and those who are no longer wanted, such as spent commercial laying hens and birds used for breeding in both industries. In addition, millions of birds are exterminated to control the diseases that naturally spread through large captive flocks. For example, between 1971 and 1973, California killed 12 million chickens to control the spread of Newcastle disease, a type of avian influenza. In 1997, Hong Kong killed 1.4 million chickens to control a strain of avian influenza that infected and killed birds and humans (repeated unsuccessfully in 2001 and 2002). Between 1997 and 2000, Italy killed 13 million birds in an attempt to control avian influenza; and in 2002, the US state of Virginia killed 4.7 million turkeys and chickens to halt a mild form of the virus (Hanson; Olejnik).

In February of 2004, the US state of Delaware killed 89,000 chickens at just two farms to control avian influenza; and in March of 2004, 118,000 chickens were exterminated on a single farm on a single day in Maryland (MDA). In Asia and Southeast Asia, to contain a virulent strain of the H5N1 avian influenza that can infect and kill humans, 50 - 80 million birds were exterminated between late January and mid-February (FAW 2004a; Henderson). Altogether, more than 100 million birds were slaughtered in Vietnam and Thailand in 2004, while on the Eastern Cape of South Africa, 27,000 ostriches were destroyed (pro-MED-mail). In Canada, 19 million birds were exterminated in 2004 to control the disease in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia (Leslie).

Mass Extermination Rationale

As I begin writing this paper in early February 2005, Hanoi, Vietnam’s largest

city, is rounding up farmed ducks and pigeons who will be killed by being burned or buried alive (Reuters). Similarly, villagers in Bali, Indonesia burned up thousands of live chickens in February 2004 to get rid of the “evil spirits” on which they blamed the avian influenza outbreak. (AP), and in Thailand in January 2004, 10.7 million chickens were "mostly packed into fertilizer sacks and buried alive in deep pits" (APN). The current roundup and killing of birds in Hanoi is part of "an increasingly desperate fight to halt the spread of the deadly bird flu virus H5N1 that has killed 13 people in the last month," according to press reports (Reuters). In 2004, the zoonotic H5N1 killed 26 people in Vietnam and 12 people in Thailand (Mason).

That strains of avian influenza can infect and kill humans was shown in the 1918 bird-human flu pandemic, which killed 20 million people in the aftermath of World War One (Henderson), although the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History challenges belief in the bird origin of that pandemic in the August 2002 issue of the Journal of Virology (Vetscite.com). 1 Regardless, protecting humans from zoonotic strains of avian influenza (strains transmittable to humans from other vertebrate animals) is not the only or the primary reason for the mass-exterminations of birds in North America. For example, on November 26 and 27, 1993, 34,000 captive birds on a game farm in Maryland, including pheasants, chukars, and quails, were gassed, burned alive, clubbed, swung by the neck and shot to death by a joint US Department of Agriculture-Maryland Department of Agriculture task force (Remorseful Participant). The purpose of this massacre was to protect the poultry industry on the Eastern Shore of the United States, although it was subsequently determined that the strain involved was non-pathogenic.

Similarly, in California, between the end of 2003 and mid-February 2003, over 2 million birds were killed by the US Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to protect California’s poultry and egg industry from exotic Newcastle Disease, a strain of avian influenza. Although the majority of birds killed showed no sign of, and were not tested for, exotic Newcastle Disease, the killings ranged from commercial laying flocks to backyard flocks and companion birds including parrots, chickens, ducks, geese, pigeons, and emus. Altogether, in California, more than 3 million birds were exterminated in the year 2003. Like the Canadian government at the present time, the US Department of Agriculture proclaimed its mass-extermination policy a success (Hill).

 

CFIA Response to the 2004 Avian Influenza Outbreak in British Columbia

In July 2004, the CFIA initiated a "lessons learned" review of the agency’s management of the avian influenza outbreak in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. The review identified five topics that were subsequently incorporated in the final report under three headings: What Worked Well, Areas for Improvement, and Recommendations. The report is available at:

http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/anima/heasan/disemala/avflu/2004sum/revexae.shtml .

Problems identified in the report include jurisdictional disagreements between local and national government and disease laboratories; failure of the CFIA to collaborate effectively with public health authorities; backlogs in data entry and other failures of communication between the CFIA, the poultry industry, and local farmers; inadequate environmental safety protection for farmers, contracted workers, and others working with (rounding up, killing, and disposing of) birds; government (taxpayer) compensation of poultry producers for financial losses; poor handling of calls from the public; and employee stress. Despite these problems, which the report generalized as lack of preparedness and poor communication among the various groups, the CFIA concluded that the effort to control the outbreak of avian influenza in the Fraser Valley "was widely viewed as being successful." Success was defined as containment of the disease within the Fraser Valley, maintenance of consumer/market confidence in poultry products at home and abroad (Canada, the EU and the US), and continued movement of "risk-free product out of the control zone."

The "wide view of success" claim is a public relations message that is said to comprise "information from multiple sources" including observations of those directly involved in the avian influenza outbreak; "a scientific peer review of the CFIA’s AI epidemiology report; a review by the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office concerning Canada’s control of the AI outbreak; and a multi-jurisdictional AI lessons learned forum (Canadian Poultry Industry Forum) held in Abbotsford, B.C. on October 27 and 28, 2004" (CFIA).

In reality, this claim ignores the concerns and criticisms provided by the humane community, and the excruciating testimony presented by farmers who observed how the CFIA used inhumane culling (killing) methods that resulted in extreme cruelty and suffering endured by millions of helpless birds.

Canadian Poultry Industry Forum October 27-28, 2004

This forum, which was held in Abbotsford, British Columbia following the massacres, was attended by Debra Probert, Executive Director of the Vancouver Humane Society, a member organization of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals. She summarized the meeting as follows.

I attended a national forum last week that turned my stomach and scared me, all at the same time. In two full days there was NOTHING on the agenda about animal welfare. When questioned, the federal government said, "This was industry-driven," so I guess that means that animal welfare is not of concern to industry (surprise).

They are in complete denial not only over the animal welfare issues, but the public health ones as well. There were a number of speakers from public health who were quite alarmist in their presentations about how close the outbreak came to becoming a pandemic, due to several factors here in BC in the poultry industry. But it didn’t make much of an impression. The most important thing for industry, and unfortunately apparently for government as well, is getting the "product" out to the consumer with no price increase.

The measures they will take will be stricter biosecurity – build chain link fences around the barns, lock the barns, don’t let anyone in, even the farmer should consider himself a visitor to his own barns. Absolutely ignored is the reality that it was the workers themselves and the intensive confinement of so many genetically identical birds that spread the virus, and no number of locks or fences is going to change that.

When I started asking questions, I was pulled out of the meetings and had to meet privately with government officials who accused me of not bringing my concerns to their attention before the forum (which I had done by letter). The slaughter of those birds was horrendous. I have heard some really sickening stories, but of course government and industry are telling everyone that it wasn’t even an issue. Nobody was allowed on the farms to see what they did, so I have asked them to have a third-party, independent welfare representative there (as they did some of the time, at least, in the Netherlands).

After discussing how keeping pigs and chickens on the same farm should be illegal, they served chicken and ham for lunch.

A lot came out of that meeting, but the organizers had control over the messaging, the media were not allowed in, and they had prepared their statements before the meeting, I’m sure. Hard to say what the report will say. (Probert)

Critical Response to the CFIA’s Report

Criticism of the report has ranged from challenges by members of Parliament who said that "[t]he CFIA’s report is virtually useless" and called for an independent inquiry "to unravel the real story" (NDP) to a letter in The Abbotsford News in which the writer said she was "sickened when reading accounts of stupidity and cruelty by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in its months-long killing spree of hundreds of thousands of chickens, geese and other birds" including the cost of their ineptitude to taxpayers (Rauh).

A joint submission to the parliamentary standing committee on agriculture signed by two poultry farmers, a private practice veterinarian, and an avian pathologist cited gross environmental violations in the killing and disposal of birds, for example, the destruction with a mobile electric stunning machine of thousands of chickens whose bodies were left outside for three days, resulting in the "dispensing of large quantities of infectious dust and feathers high into the air . . . during strong winds" (Pynn).

In addition, the parliamentary committee heard testimony of other monstrously cruel culling procedures. A press release by the Vancouver Humane Society on January 19, 2005 cited testimony before the committee of chickens beaten to death and thousands of ducks suffering repeated gassing. The press release summarized testimony by farmers concerning the Canadian Feed Inspection Agency’s use of faulty and inappropriate culling methods, including:

  • A failed attempt to kill a barn full of chickens with CO2 gas, which left 60 per cent of the birds alive. The surviving birds were then "clobbered with sticks."
  • Up to 100,000 ducks suffering a slow death by being gassed with CO2 three to four times before they died.
  • CFIA officials shooting peacocks with shotguns, leaving some wounded.
  • Specialty pigeons being destroyed, despite the fact they cannot transmit avian flu.
  • Lethal injections failing to kill an emu on the first attempt and being repeated.

Humane Slaughter?

On January 28, 2005, the Abbotsford Times reported CFIA senior staff veterinarian, Dr. Jim Clark, as saying before the parliamentary standing committee on agriculture, in response to criticism of his agency’s methods of destroying the birds, that all of the "euthanizing techniques" that were used are "internationally recognized as humane." He said that British Columbia poultry industry workers use the same techniques themselves, "as with the use of an electrocution device." Clark told the committee that the electrocution device "is accepted by agencies in Europe and is very definitely recognized as humane." He said that the British Columbia poultry industry "routinely uses the electrocution device when [layer] hens are of no more use" (Leslie).

In reality, the three common methods that are used to kill birds used in food production in North America and the European Union – carbon dioxide (CO2), electrical immobilization ("stunning"), and neck cutting (severance of the jugular veins and, less cruelly but less frequently, the carotid arteries buried in the neck muscles) are not "very definitely recognized as humane" by experts in the field (Davis, 1996). Increasingly, since the 1980s, the published science has shown the opposite. For example, regarding the use of electrical "stunning" of "spent" commercial laying hens and birds used for breeding, S.F. Bilgili wrote of the effect on these birds in The Journal of Applied Poultry Research that "[t]he high variation observed in resistivity of the skull bone indicates that birds with thick and dense skull bones are most likely to be inadequately stunned" (Bilgili, 141).

In a paper published in 1987, Dr. Neville Gregory of the University of Bristol Department of Meat Animal Science explained that a major problem with electrical stunning, even under "ideal" conditions, is that birds who are genuinely stunned (rendered unconscious) and birds who are merely paralyzed look the same (Gregory 1987). In a letter dated January 11, 1993, Gregory stated that while the legal definition of humane slaughter of spent hens in the UK is "’Rendering the animal instantaneously insensible to pain until death supervenes,’ I would prefer [he wrote] ‘Rendering the animal instantaneously insensible until death supervenes’ because following electrical stunning one can have analgaesia where there is conscious perception of non-painful stimuli" including gagging, suffocation, fear, and apprehension (Gregory 1993).

The science-based ethical concerns that surround the slaughter of poultry, presented from an animal welfare standpoint, can be found in the report by Compassion in World Farming Trust, ANIMAL WELFARE PROBLEMS IN UK SLAUGHTERHOUSES (Stevenson). Published in July 2001, this report contradicts the assertion by Dr. Clark that the techniques used to "euthanize" [sic] birds in Canada, whether to control disease or to kill birds in slaughter plants, are "internationally recognized as humane." Indeed, Clark’s assertion is circular, since the term "euthanasia" means "humane death" to begin with. 2

Poultry Stunning and Slaughter: Current Science and Recommendations

On December 16, 2004, Dr. Mohan Raj, Senior Research Fellow in the Farm Animal Division of the School of Clinical Veterinary Science at the University of Bristol in the UK, gave a seminar at the US Department of Agriculture in Washington DC on the "Welfare, Economic and Practical Implications of Gas Stunning Prior to Poultry Slaughter." He presented detailed, technical evidence explaining why, both the use of CO2 and the administration of electricity as employed by the poultry industry to kill birds are inhumane and should be replaced by less inhumane methods of stunning based on the use of argon or nitrogen gases that kill birds non-aversively or considerably less aversively.

CARBON DIOXIDE

Concerning the use of carbon dioxide (CO2), Dr. Raj said that the use of pure carbon dioxide is inhumane. CO2 induces breathlessness, and the experience of breathlessness activates regions of the brain involved in the perception of pain in birds as well as in humans. Dyspnea, or breathlessness, in birds and mammals alike, he said, "activates brain regions associated with pain and induces an emotional response of panic." The crux is that while carbon dioxide increases the rate and depth of breathing to expel the CO2 from the lungs, breathing actually increases the intake of CO2, and thus the desire to breathe to expel CO2 causes slow, painful suffocation. By contrast, gaseous stunning based on the use of the inert gases argon or nitrogen, in what is known as Controlled Atmosphere Stunning, eliminates or greatly reduces this suffering by inducing a condition of anoxia rather than suffocation.

Dr. Raj explained the crucial difference between anoxia/hypoxia (lack of oxygen and subnormal levels of oxygen) and dyspnea (breathlessness). Unlike anoxia, for which birds and mammals do not have chemical receptors in their lungs, suffocation involves receptors that register the physical separation of the upper respiratory tract from the outside atmosphere resulting in "a subjective distress in breathing." In experiments in the US and UK, turkeys and chickens exposed to high (40 percent or more) levels of CO2 "gasp, shake their heads, and stretch their necks to breathe." And whereas chickens and pigs resume eating immediately upon recovery from the argon- or nitrogen-gas induced unconsciousness of anoxia, pigs, for example, required two or three days to eat again after recovering from CO2.

ELECTRICAL STUNNING

Dr. Raj said that the electrical waterbath stunning method used by the poultry industry causes birds inevitable pain and distress associated with the entire process. He explained that due to a combination of factors including the fact that various body parts such as fat, muscle tissue, and bone ends impede the flow of electricity, "you can’t control the amount of current flowing through a bird." He said:

  • Both effectively and ineffectively stunned broiler chickens exhibit seizures and apnea (absence of breathing); therefore, seizures and lack of breathing are not good indicators of unconsciousness and insensibility following electrical stunning.
  • In the absence of profound EEG suppression ("spreading depression" indicating lack of consciousness), an animal regains painful consciousness. If electrical stunning is incomplete, it is a painful experience to recover from that immobility.
  • The poultry industry has a responsibility to ensure humane slaughter (in which animals are spared avoidable fear, anxiety, pain, suffering and distress), even when not legislated. However, this responsibility is not being exercised. The poultry industry does not even know what they are buying when they buy these electrical stunning machines.
  • Though the industry strives for uniformity, exactitude using the electrified water bath stun cabinet method is not possible. Effectiveness of the stun cannot be determined. The method, which is widely practiced because it is simple and cheap, rather than for humane reasons, cannot be controlled.

CONCLUSIONS BY MOHAN RAJ

  • Use of anoxia is far more humane than gas mixtures containing CO2.
  • Gaseous mixtures containing low concentrations (less than 30%) of CO2 and an anoxic gas such as argon or nitrogen cause less suffering than high concentrations of CO2 in air.
  • Slaughter without stunning induces unconsciousness faster than CO2.
  • Both slaughter (neck cutting) and CO2 are painful and distressing.
  • CO2 stunning could compromise humanitarian intentions of eliminating the pain and suffering associated with electrical stunning.

Two Examples of the CFIA’s Inhumane Methods of Destroying Birds in Light of the Above Information

  1. According to a statement signed by two poultry farmers, a private practice veterinarian and an avian pathologist, 18,000 "broiler" chickens (chickens less than 6 weeks old) were locked in a barn sealed with duct tape and foam insulation and subjected to pressurized carbon dioxide for sixteen hours after which the birds were removed with a front-end loader, dumped in a feed mixer and ground up with barn litter (Pynn).
  2. The same joint statement describes the CFIA’s destruction of 23,500 chickens "not by carbon dioxide but with a mobile electric stunning machine" (Pynn).

In reality, these birds died in a manner that no humane person can contemplate without horror. They were subjected to slow torturous suffocation in sheds filled with carbon dioxide, from which they could not escape, and to torturous paralysis including all of the experiences comprised in a living body’s response to being penetrated with volts of electricity. In the case of the electric stunning machine, the electricity was applied indiscriminately to thousands of birds crammed in bundles and bunches into the machine similar to the way thousands of hens were thrown into wood chipping machines during the exotic Newcastle disease epidemic in Southern California in 2003 (Chong; UPC). The very physical contact of the birds with one another passes painful electric shocks among them – a point that Mohan Raj and others have made about the transmission of electric shocks from bird to bird hanging upside down on the assembly line in the slaughter plants.

Contrary to Dr. Jim Clark’s assertion that these birds were "euthanized," they could not have been treated more cruelly. If such methods of dying and being killed are regarded as genuinely, scientifically humane, then human beings, who in all relevant respects share the same neurophysiology, cognitive capacity, and emotional capability of fear, terror, anxiety, and panic as other vertebrate animals, should be willing to die by these same methods.

Five Final Points Regarding CO2, Electricity, and Paralysis

  • In an article in New Scientist, Ruth Harrison, author of the influential book Animal Machines (1964) and a member of the Farm Animal Welfare Council in Britain, said: "I used to be very much a proponent of CO2 stunning" of day-old male chicks by the egg industry. But a visit to a mink farm in Denmark, followed by subjecting herself to inhalation of various CO2 gas concentrations, changed her mind. "In my opinion," she said, "it is no better than the old practice of filling up a dustbin and letting them suffocate" (Birchall).
  • It is impossible to kill a single human being humanely using electricity intended to electrocute, i.e. kill (and not merely to immobilize as in poultry industry electrical "stunning") in death penalty executions. Imagine using electricity to dispose of masses of human beings at a time (Wikberg).
  • A Special Report in Euthanasia of Dogs and Cats: An Analysis of Experience and Current Knowledge with Recommendations for Research, published by the World Federation for the Protection of Animals in 1977, states: "In 1928-29, the Nobel laureate, Professor A.V. Hill, reported that the [electrocution] cabinets [in use for dogs and cats in 1926] were likely to cause great pain although this would be masked by muscular paralysis. . . . [T]he results of American research were adding force to those who continued to have doubts. Their fear was that the quiet, relaxed, supposedly unconscious or dead animal was, in fact, fully conscious and in agony for some time before unconsciousness and death supervened" (World Federation, 12).
  • The 1993 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia states on page 234: "For death to be painless and distress-free, unconsciousness should precede loss of motor activity (muscular movement). This means that agents that induce muscle paralysis without unconsciousness are absolutely condemned as sole agents for euthanasia"(Italics and bolding added). The 2000 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia states on pages 675 and 696: "For death to be painless and distress-free, loss of consciousness should precede loss of motor activity (muscle movement). Loss of motor activity, however, cannot be equated with loss of consciousness and absence of distress. Thus, agents that induce muscle paralysis without loss of consciousness are not acceptable as sole agents of euthanasia." [And] "Stunning may render an animal unconscious, but it is not a method of euthanasia (except for neonatal animals with thin craniums)." (Italics and bolding added).
  • In The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions (2005), Sister Helen Prejean, in her discussion of lethal injection in death penalty cases in the United States, renders the following account of agents that induce muscle paralysis without loss of consciousness:

The widespread use of lethal injection masks the reality of death. But recent medical discoveries show that pancuronium bromide, one of the drugs used in the deadly cocktail, paralyzes persons being killed, which makes it impossible for them to cry out if they are in pain. Some veterinarians have testified they no longer use pancuronium bromide when euthanizing animals because if the medicinal procedure malfunctions, the animal cannot register distress. One woman on whom the drug was used while undergoing eye surgery told of being so paralyzed that she could not so much as "lift a finger" or cry out that she was in excruciating pain throughout the two-hour procedure. (Prejean, 234-235)

Could Such Mass-Extermination Practices Be Justified if They Increased Vegetarianism?

In a commentary spawned by the mass-exterminations of birds in 2004, philosopher Peter Singer and co-author Karen Dawn defended the killings to halt the spread of the avian influenza virus, suggesting as well that if media coverage of the exterminations increased the number of vegetarians, the killings could be further justified. They asked: "Can we dare to hope that pictures on television and in the press of animals being slaughtered en masse will lead people to re-examine their eating habits? If so, the animals, even the healthy animals, killed in the current slaughter to prevent disease will clearly not have died for nothing." (Note that while the atrocities committed in Asian countries have been fleetingly shown on North American television, the cameras don’t show the atrocities taking place here at home.)

In Canada, Lulu, Nellie, Jack and Jill, four chickens belonging to organic blueberry farmers Chris Croner and Jennifer Cichanovich, in the Fraser Valley, were gassed to death along with the rest of the couple’s small flock in 2004, despite their birds having been blood-tested and found to be healthy (Hume). The government threatened Croner with loss of his business license if the couple refused to comply with the brutal killing of their birds. In a panic induced by these terror tactics, they regretfully (and regrettably) gave in.

In Southern California in 2003, people living with companion birds witnessed firsthand the savagery of the government taskforces. According to an eyewitness: "A vet shows up with a bunch of low paid thugs and prison labor. In full view of a family, including the children, they catch the birds they can catch, tape their legs together, put each one in a plastic bag, and gas them with carbon dioxide. The ones they can’t catch they shoot with pellet guns until they are dead. Geese and emus they bludgeon to death with clubs. We can’t drive past the Norco Egg ranch without thinking of a quarter of a million innocent chickens who never saw the sun, never got to put their feet on the ground, never got to have a life, and were then gassed like Jews in a concentration camp and thrown away like garbage" (Swallow 2003b).

If, indeed, the case could be made that the mass-extermination of birds to control an infectious virus could be "balanced" or justified if it raised public consciousness of the evil of speciesism and encouraged more people to become vegetarians, then a similar case could be made that the mass-extermination of, say, millions of Jews by the Nazis could be "balanced’ and justified if the atrocity raised public consciousness of the evil of anti-Semitism and facilitated the creation of Israel. Yet many of us wince at this kind of analysis, perhaps because we know in our hearts that such cold-blooded thinking constitutes a final insult to the victims and their suffering. What we can say is that while nothing can ever "balance" or justify these horrible episodes, they should compel us to change the behavior that produced them. The periodic and routine killings ("culling") of millions of sentient individuals for whom life is a needless, cheerless, comfortless, human-created misery, ending for the survivors in a slaughterhouse, is reason enough for a humane person to become a vegan.

As for justifying the mass-extermination of birds to block the spread of avian influenza, the question may be asked whether it would it be morally acceptable, according to this logic, to kill all human beings suspected of having, or known to have, an infectious disease such AIDS. Perhaps if we had preemptively exterminated suspected AIDS carriers at the beginning we could have prevented the worldwide spread of AIDS. Many human lives might have been saved and much needless suffering prevented. What the mass extermination of birds to control avian influenza does show is that, when it comes to animals regarded as "food," as when humans are regarded as "animals," anything may be done to them and plastered over as "humane." If this analogy seems farfetched, consider the words of historian Page Smith and biologist Charles Daniel, in The Chicken Book (1975), regarding the extermination of chickens in Southern California to "save" the egg industry in the early 1970s:

The killing and disposal of nine million hens is gallocide on a scale too vast for the average imagination, a true horror story for the owners of the birds (however little sentiment they may have for their chickens), and perhaps, above all, for those human beings charged with actually destroying the birds. Chickens are not people, but perhaps the destruction in our age of millions of human beings who were thought to carry a kind of racial virus in their genes has inured us to the horror of killing so many living creatures and left us equally indifferent to the strange developments which make such a solution seem inevitable if not commonplace. (Smith and Daniel, 301)

Who Benefited from Exterminating Birds in California in the 1970s?

Concerning the slaughter of 9 million hens (actually 12 million hens) to "save" the Southern California egg industry in the early 1970s, Smith and Daniel present a further aspect of the killings that is as relevant today as it was then. They write:

Some research scientists, whose task was to make vaccines to combat the Newcastle disease, among others, were convinced that the slaughter was unnecessary, that the threatened flocks would have been protected and the disease checked by vaccination. They believed that an important element in the action of agriculture officials was the desire to boost the price of eggs by destroying large flocks. Since the egg manufacturers were handsomely compensated by the government and since, indeed, the exterminations were bound to have the effect of raising prices, thereby saving them from incipient bankruptcy, they, not unnaturally, kept their mouths shut and cooperated with the government agents in the mass killings. Prices of eggs and of chickens did indeed rise steeply in the aftermath of the killings. . . . The trading in egg futures was brisk and the industry took a new lease on life. (Smith and Daniel, 300).

Who Benefited from Exterminating Birds in California in 2003?

The extermination of more than 3 million birds during the exotic Newcastle disease epidemic in California in 2003 cost US taxpayers more than $160 million including indemnities to game fowl breeders, cockfighters, and poultry producers. Although cockfighting has been illegal in California since 1905, and is outlawed in 47 other states as well, the US Department of Agriculture compensated game fowl breeders whose birds were destroyed in the exotic Newcastle disease eradication program as high as $1,850 per bird (Shrider). The indemnities encouraged cockfighters to "find" exotic Newcastle disease, kill their birds, and introduce new birds in order to get paid. According to a California resident in 2003, "They hide five or six dead birds and after depopulation sell those dead birds to other cockfighters to infect their birds and everyone gets the big payoff" (Swallow 2003a).

Given that the US egg industry had been trying to reduce flock sizes for years, and that the government paid egg companies $2 to $5 per bird for losses incurred under the exotic Newcastle disease eradication program, it is reasonable to assume that, as with game fowl flocks, many laying flocks were intentionally "stricken" with the disease to enable producers to collect the indemnities paid for with public money. To what extent are and were similar payoffs part of the overall industry "relief" program in Canada?

An Open Letter to the Canadian Minister of Agriculture

On February 24, 2005, the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals presented the following "Open Letter to Andy Mitchell, Minister of Agriculture, Concerning the Handling of the Avian Flu Crisis in British Columbia, Canada in 2004."

February 24, 2005

The Honorable Andy Mitchell

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Sir John Carling Building

930 Carling Avenue

Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0C5

Dear Minister Mitchell:

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s handling of the Avian Influenza outbreak in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia last year has drawn criticism on several fronts. Public health, environmental concerns and economic issues have received much attention. Not as prominent, but equally as serious, are the revelations about the agency’s handling of animal welfare. The humane community’s worst fears have been realized.

This event triggered a significant and, for the most part, avoidable amount

of animal suffering. Equally troubling, however, is the blatant disregard for

animal welfare that the CFIA continues to exhibit by its refusal to admit there were problems. While some problems may have been unavoidable in this unprecedented and less than ideal situation, the apparent reluctance of the CFIA to address the animal welfare issue means they will not learn from their mistakes. This could result in mistakes being repeated next time. This is unacceptable.

Early on in the crisis, the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals (CCFA) expressed concerns about the killing methods to the CFIA. There were assurances that everything was under control and that the birds were being killed in the most humane manner possible. It was even stated that a representative from the BCSPCA had been on-site for the first "depopulation." However, as the crisis progressed, the little information we could obtain about the slaughter and circumstances surrounding the killing raised red flags.

Our research led us to conclude that the CFIA was not, in fact, using the most humane method available and there were issues regarding the accountability of those present during the "depopulation" of infected farms, and later, the culling of birds within the quarantined area. In spite of what we were initially told by the CFIA, there was no BCSPCA representative present at any time. This prompted our letter to the CFIA dated April 13, 2004 (copy enclosed) requesting the following:

      • That the method of slaughter be reconsidered and that nitrogen gas, instead of CO2, be used.
      • That an independent, third-party veterinarian, preferably appointed by the BCSPCA, be present at all depopulations.
      • That the CFIA videotape each procedure to provide assurance that the birds were dying with a minimum of suffering and to ensure that any mistakes would not be repeated.

All of these requests were denied.

Following this, the Vancouver Humane Society, a member of CCFA, produced an in-depth report titled A gentle and easy death? An examination of animal welfare issues during the 2004 avian influenza outbreak in British Columbia (available at www.vancouverhumanesociety.bc.ca , copy enclosed). This was submitted to the CFIA.

Following the crisis, meetings were held in Kitchener, Ontario (August, 2004) and in Abbotsford, BC (October, 2004) to review the crisis and determine how it could be handled more effectively next time. Animal welfare was not on the agenda of either meeting and was only mentioned in passing.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture held a fact-gathering hearing in Abbotsford, BC on January 19 and 19, 2005. The comments by some speakers were shocking. Farmers provided eye-witness accounts of bungled slaughter, including:

  • Thousands of ducks were exposed to CO2 three to four times before finally dying, in spite of published standards from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, University of California, Davis, which states that CO2 is unacceptable for waterfowl.
  • Chickens that survived the gassing were "clobbered with sticks" to finish them off.
  • Thousands of pigeons were unnecessarily killed, even though research shows that pigeons do not transmit the avian flu virus.

The BCSPCA and the Vancouver Humane Society have received reports of thousands of chickens dying from suffocation and heat-stress after barn fans were turned off and barns were in the process of being sealed. In addition, anecdotal reports of the unnecessary slaughter of many backyard flocks and family pets abound.

The Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, which represents more than 100,000 Canadians across Canada, respectfully urges that an official public inquiry take place immediately to prevent an animal welfare disaster of this magnitude from occurring in the future.

In addition, the CFIA should review its response in consultation with Canadian and worldwide experts in poultry welfare, including, but not limited to Dr. Ian Duncan, University of Guelph; Dr. Victoria Bowes, Avian Pathologist, BC Ministry of Agriculture; Dr. Mohan Raj, Senior Research Fellow, School of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol and representatives from the local humane community, to consider:

  • reassessing the slaughter method, CO2 gassing, and considering other methods, including gas mixtures such as CO2 and nitrogen, CO2 and argon, or nitrogen alone;
  • developing standard operating procedures, taking into consideration different species and their needs;
  • developing a list of avian species which do not transmit the virus, to be excluded from any future cull;
  • vulnerability of backyard/specialty flocks with a view to excluding them from a future cull if they pose no threat of infection;
  • developing a protocol requiring third-party, independent representation from the humane community, preferably an SPCA-appointed veterinarian, to monitor animal welfare; and
  • developing a protocol requiring all "depopulations" be videotaped.

We would like to request a meeting with you to discuss this matter in person and we look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals

Per Debra Probert

cc as required

encl.

________________________________

Conclusion: The Gap Between Animal Welfare Science and Government/Industry Killing Practices

Animal agribusiness has thus far tended to frame discussions about how animals are treated as if the animals themselves did not exist and as if the defenders of animals were unworthy of anyone’s attention. However, with the increasingly successful use of videotaped undercover investigations by animal activists, this policy may be wearing thin. Increasingly, animal advocates are creating alliances with animal scientists who are willing to take an independent stand, as scientists, on behalf of animals with respect to husbandry, slaughter, and the need for significant welfare improvements. Scientists such as Temple Grandin of Colorado State University, Ian Duncan of the University of Guelph, Lesley Rogers of the University of New England in Australia, Joy Mench of the University of California-Davis, and Mohan Raj of the University of Bristol in the UK are among those who are speaking out.

At present there is a gap between animal welfare science and industry objectives. This gap was apparent at a "Symposium on Poultry Management and Production" that I attended, hosted by the American Association of Avian Pathologists in New Orleans, Louisiana, in July 1999. Roughly, the symposium had a morning session on animal welfare and an afternoon session on industry perspectives. In the morning we heard about farmed-animal sensitivity and sensibility and in the afternoon we heard about economics, but there was virtually no rapport between the two sessions.

More recently, the gap between animal welfare and production agriculture was noted in comments by University of Saskatchewan Professor of Applied Ethology, Dr. Joseph Stookey, in reference to MeatNews editor Dr. Dom Castaldo’s description of his own response to a letter he received from a woman who expressed concern about animal abuse in slaughter plants. Castaldo wrote dismissively that ‘[t]he aim of the letter was to make me aware of the ‘cruelty’ that goes on in slaughter plants." The woman, he said, "was clearly an animal rights advocate and clearly misinformed and spouting the ‘party-line.’" Castaldo sought to delegitimize the woman by portraying her as one of "the animal rights crowd." He asserted, moreover, that animal abusers are "becoming fewer," a case in point being the PETA investigation at the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken slaughter plant in 2004, in Moorefield, West Virginia, which showed workers spitting tobacco juice in the eyes and mouths of chickens, tearing their beaks off, slamming them against the wall, spray painting their faces, and playing football with them. According to Castaldo, who did not recite these findings, "The incident made national headlines BECAUSE it is rare."

In reality, it’s the undercover investigations that are rare. Each time an activist investigator goes undercover, it seems that the findings are atrocious. Undercover investigations, unlike scheduled audits, reveal what goes on when the company doesn’t know anyone is watching – and recording.

Dr. Stookey criticized the substance and patronizing tone of Castaldo’s message. He upheld the work of PETA investigators while signaling the failure of industry to do the undercover work that animal activists have taken upon themselves to do in lieu of industry response to legitimate concerns about how animals are being treated. He asked, "Why not admit that many things have improved for the animals because critics have pointed out legitimate wrongs and pressured fast food chains and the meat industry to respond?"

Stookey told Castaldo and MeatNews: "I think the sooner people like us in agriculture start treating the critics with respect, then the sooner everyone in the industry, plus the consumers and the animals will benefit." Stookey was challenging the meat industry not only to improve its public relations strategies but also to improve the conditions that legitimize criticism and ensure that undercover investigations and revelations will not be silenced or go away; rather, they will amplify and increase. Stookey recalled the ignored victims – the forgotten animals themselves – asking, for example: "Who paid attention to vocalizations at the slaughter plant or the misuse of stock prods before Temple Grandin?"

Together, the fields of animal ethology and cognition show that chickens and turkeys and cows and pigs are intelligent, sentient individuals with minds and feelings similar and often identical to those of the human animal (Davis, 2001; Masson). Regarding birds, for example, Dr. Lesley Rogers writes in The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken (1995): "Recent research has revealed that birds are capable of complex cognition" (Rogers, 213). Of chickens in particular, she says: "With increased knowledge of the behaviour and cognitive abilities of the chicken has come the realization that the chicken is not an inferior species to be treated merely as a food source" (213). This being so, Rogers concludes that while new practices may be implemented to improve welfare in intensive poultry systems, "it should be realized that even vastly improved intensive systems are unlikely to meet the cognitive demands of the hitherto underestimated chicken brain" (213).

Rogers and others, both scientists and activists, are successfully challenging what Rogers calls "a tradition of treating birds as cognitively inferior to mammalian species" (214). She states: "it is now clear that birds have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates" ("14, 217). Most recently the reality of bird intelligence received major news coverage when an international group of scientists, The Avian Brain Nomenclature Consortium, published in the February 2005 issue of Nature Neuroscience Reviews, a paper calling for a new set of words to describe the various parts of the bird brain as a result of "the now overwhelming evidence . . . that the bulk of a bird’s brain is not, as scientists once thought, mere ‘basal ganglia’ – the part of the brain that simply coordinates instincts. Rather, fully 75 percent of a bird’s brain is an intricately wired mass that processes information in much the same way as the vaunted human cerebral cortex" (Weiss).

In a culture like ours that looks to science for many important truths and facts about nature and life, and a subculture of "food" animal production that invokes "science-based" data about animals and animal welfare to justify its practices, it would seem that the conditions under which billions of animals are forced to suffer and die, including the brutal exterminations they endure when these horrible conditions and their own helpless bodies "fight back," need revision. I look forward to and work for the day when the consumption of animals is as morally and physically repugnant to most people as human cannibalism and slavery now are.

Meanwhile, there are things that can and must be done to relieve the misery of animals whose only escape from us is through death. One is to eliminate the use of carbon dioxide and electrical paralysis as methods of killing them. Another is to videotape everything that is done to animals behind closed doors and let the public decide on the acceptability of what they see. Given that public money funds the extermination of animals raised for food when a disease breaks out, people have not only a right but an obligation to know how their money is being spent and what their consumer habits cost the core victims of their animal-based diet if they are not (yet) vegetarians.

Beyond reforms, a bolder vision must prevail. Many say that we will never get people to stop eating animals, but who’s to say what the driving power of activism might or might not achieve. In his article "Against All Odds," based on his new book, Adam Hochschild recounts the abolition of the British slave trade and ultimately of slavery itself in the British Empire. The details of the struggle are riveting. Here is Hochschild’s final and inspiring paragraph on "Changing the World:

Though born in the age of swords, wigs, and stagecoaches, the British anti-slavery movement leaves us an extraordinary legacy. Every day activists use the tools it helped pioneer: consumer boycotts, newsletters, petitions, political posters and buttons, national campaigns with local committees, and much more. But far more important is the boldness of its vision. Look at the problems that confront the world today: global warming; the vast gap between rich and poor nations; the relentless spread of nuclear weapons; the poisoning of the earth’s soil, air, and water; the habit of war. To solve almost any one of these, a realist might say, is surely the work of centuries; to think otherwise is naïve. But many a hardheaded realist could-and-did say exactly the same thing to those who first proposed to end slavery. After all, was it not in one form or another woven into the economy of most of the world? Had it not existed for millennia? Was it not older, even, than money and the written word? Surely anyone expecting to change all of that was a dreamer. But the realists turned out to be wrong. "Never doubt," said Margaret Mead, "that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." (Hochschild).

So let us work together to reduce the worst of how animals are treated in food production, but first and foremost, please, don’t just switch from beef to chicken; please get the slaughterhouse out of your kitchen: go vegan. Thank you.

____________________

NOTES

1 The origin of influenza viruses is still debated. Pigs are often identified, but others suggest birds, as in this statement: "All flu viruses probably originate in birds, and the best environment for making the jump to humans is one where densely packed people live closely with birds and [other] animals. ‘In Asia we have a huge animal population, a huge bird population and two-thirds of the world’s people living there,’ said Klaus Stohr, chief influenza scientist at the World Health Organization" (MSNBC/Associated Press).

2 Government/industry veterinarians in the English-speaking world appear to be institutionalizing the term euthanasia – merciful death – as a euphemism for the killing of animals in general, similar to the way the word "fast" has been substituted for "starve" by the US egg industry in reference to its practice of removing all food from hens to force them to molt (Davis 2003). At a meeting on the extermination of birds during the exotic Newcastle disease epidemic in California on February 13, 2003 in Los Angeles, the state veterinarian there used the term "euthanasia" in the same way as Jim Clark.

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PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
757-678-7875
FAX: 757-678-5070
www.upc-online.org

 
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