United Poultry Concerns Febuary 13 , 2004

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 all.

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 is recommended.

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 2004).

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 AIDS.

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 done?

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
FAX: 757-678-5070

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