When Murdering Animals Makes Sense
By Karen Davis, PhD
For the past year, United Poultry Concerns and other animal advocacy
organizations have sought to have California veterinarian Gregg
Cutler removed from his position as poultry welfare representative
on the animal welfare committee of the American Veterinary Medical
Association. Cutler authorized the killing of thousands of unwanted
battery-caged hens by throwing them into wood-chipping machinery
last February. This method of killing chickens is not approved
by the AVMA, who announced last April that "Wood Chippers [are]
Not To Be Used for Euthanasia of Poultry."
If instead of wood chippers, Cutler had merely advised the Ward
Egg Ranch to use any of the standard AVMA-approved methods of killing
the birds like breaking and stretching their necks and/or asphyxiating
them with carbon dioxide - inhumane methods notwithstanding their
AVMA classification as "euthanasia" ("merciful death"), this episode
would not have been noticed.
Cutler claims in his defense that he was just acting as part of
a government-industry task force established to block the Exotic
Newcastle disease epidemic that threatened California's poultry
and egg industry last year. The mass-extermination of over 3 million
birds conducted by this team, at a cost of more than $160 million
including indemnities paid to cockfighters, was not paid for by
the industry but by U.S. taxpayers, belying the idea that "eggs
and chicken are cheap."
Cutler was part of a team. The San Diego County Department of
Animal Services report showing that he authorized the wood-chipper
killings includes a document titled "Southern California Biosecurity:
Eliminating A.I. [Avian Influenza]: Protecting Us All From the
Next Bad News." This document, a 9-page industry guide for dealing
with avian influenza outbreaks, includes a procedure for disposing
of "spent hens" by throwing them alive into wood chippers:
Compost or Cremate, on the farm, wherever possible. Most farms
in Southern California can do this. A few face neighbor or regulatory
hurdles. When done correctly this should be cheaper than sending
birds to Valley Fresh [for slaughter]; and much safer. You don't
need to bring suspect equipment or personnel onto your ranch at
Whole birds can be composted on site. We have Southern California
farmers who have done this with limited #s. You can ask for help.
Grinding birds first aids composting considerably. We have Southern
California farmers who have done this very successfully. You can
ask for help.
A large chipper can be rented and set-up to discharge directly
into a loader bucket or other container.
Death is instant and humane.
The remains can then be dumped in a row on top of a generous bed
of manure, and covered with a deep mound of manure.
Bury the remains deep and away from the edges of the pile and
you should not have a problem with varmints.
The pile should heat up, and then start to cool. It should then
be turned, or churned, and allowed to heat up again. Continue the
process until you have compost.
Some hay or other carbon source added in the chipping process
The use of wood-chippers, in other words, is just business as
usual, sensible and efficient, a way of getting rid of some of
the millions of unwanted "spent" hens that the egg industry unloads
each year, just as it gets rid of its millions of unwanted male
chicks by grinding them up alive and/or suffocating them in trash
cans at the hatchery.
As Ward Egg Ranch plant manager Ken Iryie told the San Diego County
humane officer last February, "chipping" chickens is so common
that "tree chipper rental places even advertise in the poultry
industry for that use." He said his company was "authorized to
do this by veterinarians Dr. Cutler, Dr. Kerr, and Dr. Breitmeyer
[Richard E. Breitmeyer, California state veterinarian]" all of
whom are with the Newcastle Disease Task Force. Iryie said that
the hens, who "were placed in the tree chipper, were not infected
with Newcastle" and that "'chipping' chickens as a means of euthanization
had been authorized for the last three years." In industry terms
the word "euthanize" simply means "kill," as when Cutler told DVM
Newsmagazine : "My only regret is speaking as a scientist
to county representatives and consumer media who misconstrued my
openmindedness for new alternatives to euthanasia during a crisis" (January
Such crises are now taking place around the world from Delaware
to Indonesia. To protect the global animal food industry and save
people from the avian influenza epidemics brought on by humans,
millions of chickens, ducks, turkeys and other animals are being
buried alive, gassed, drowned, beaten to death, and burned to death,
including actual old-fashioned ritual holocausts of thousands of
chickens by villagers in Bali, Indonesia. The chickens are being
set on fire "to send off the evil spirits that they say brought
on the bird flu outbreak of thousands of chickens" (AP, 2/11/04).
Although what is happening in other countries is being shown on
American television, we don't get to see the atrocities being conducted
here at home. Where were the TV crews last year when millions of
birds in California, Arizona, Texas and Nevada were being shot
with pellet guns, beaten to death, tied up in plastic bags, gassed
with CO2, trashed and buried alive? Why didn't we get a glimpse
of the "humane depopulation" of the 86,000 birds so far in Delaware?
If our methods are so humane, why can't we watch them on television
and compare the ethical superiority of our own solutions to the
atrocities being conducted elsewhere?
Here, anyway, is an eyewitness account of one such episode that
took place in Maryland, in 1993, during an avian flu outbreak that
according to The Washington Post , 2/12/04, resulted in "the
destruction of tens of thousands of birds, according to state officials."
"On November 26 and 27, 1993, there was a holocaust on a game
farm operated by John L. Tuttle near Centreville, Maryland. Over
30,000 captive game birds [pheasants, chukars, and quails raised
and sold for hunting in Maryland and surrounding states] were gassed,
burned alive, clubbed, swung by the neck or shot to death by a
joint United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-APHIS) Maryland
Department of Agriculture task force. This operation was supervised
by Drs. Hortentia Harris and David Henzler of USDA-APHIS [Animal & Plant
Health Inspection Service] and Drs. Archibald Park and Henry Virts
of the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
"Approximately half of the game birds (17,000) were housed in
buildings. The remaining birds were housed in outside flight pens.
On Friday, November 26, large tank trucks brought in carbon dioxide
gas (CO2) which was pumped into the buildings which housed a variety
of game bird species some of which were suspected of harboring
a pathogenic avian influenza virus. The plan was to asphyxiate
the birds with CO2 gas, then carry them to a trench in a front
end loader where they would be sprayed with an accelerant and burned.
Unfortunately, we learned that CO2 is not lethal. As soon as the
unconscious birds were exposed to fresh air they began to revive.
Many of these birds were burned alive. A fruitless attempt was
made to asphyxiate the remaining birds with exhaust gasses from
an automobile. It did not work. Many more of these birds were burned
alive that day.
"The remaining 17,000 birds, which were housed in outdoor flight
pens, were dispatched in a similar cruel and inhumane manner. Many
birds were clubbed until unconscious and then burned alive. Finally,
over 500 rounds of shotgun shells were used to wound, maim and
kill the remaining game birds which could not be captured. Many
of these birds were burned alive. After the carnage was over, this
virus was determined to be non-pathogenic. The depopulation was
totally unnecessary" (letter from a "remorseful participant" to
the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, March 24, 1996).
What if the depopulation had been deemed "necessary"? Would what
was done to the birds be okay, then?
An op-ed by philosopher Peter Singer and DawnWatch.com producer
Karen Dawn suggests that it could be ("When Slaughter Makes Sense," Newsday ,
2/8/04). They defend the mass-extermination of animals "to stem
the spread of avian flu" and call public concern that the killings
are purposeless "misplaced." According to the logic, we should
kill all humans suspected of having, or known to have, infectious
diseases like flu and AIDS. Maybe if we had exterminated suspected
AIDS carriers at the beginning we could have stopped the tide of
Their argument for humane vegetarianism is psychologically undercut
by their first argument in which animals are represented as mattering
so little that the "waste" of their lives is compared to the "waste" of
time forced on us in airports going through scanners and being
searched in case of hijackers. The tone is patronizing towards
the animals and towards the human emotions that are suffering with
these animals. They say of the exterminations that "[s]ince we
are both actively involved with the animal-rights movement, most
people would expect us to think of them as atrocities. We are saddened,
of course, by the mass killings, but at least there is a valid
purpose to them, as they are designed to stop the spread of diseases
that could cause many more deaths."
How many animal advocates will commit to the idea that the cheap,
crude, cruel, pitiless methods that are being used to murder all
these animals are "valid"? Or to the implication that short of
immediate worldwide vegetarianism, nothing less drastic could be
It is painful enough to contemplate what the evolution of our
species on earth means for the rest of the living world, without
the added sorrow of seeing our animal victims be morally abandoned,
subtly sacrificed and derogated by their only "defenders." By such
unfeeling logic, the wood-chipper solution makes perfect sense
just as Gregg Cutler has been saying all along. And if the wood-chipper
killings got people to go vegetarian, then what was done to those
hens was "balanced," and we could assure the hens, if only we could,
that their "sacrifice" was not in vain.
Karen Davis is the president of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit
organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment
of domestic fowl. www.upc-online.org
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150