United Poultry Concerns April 22, 2003

DA asks for more information in chicken chipping case

Staff Writer
The chicken chipping case isn't over.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced this week that the final decision about whether to press charges against egg ranchers who put thousands of live chickens into a wood chipper in February would not be made until she had more information.

The announcement came seven days after the district attorney's office said it would not press charges against Bill Wilgenburg, owner of Ward Egg Ranch in Valley Center. That decision was based, in part, on the belief that using a chipper to kill chickens is "a standard industry practice," said Gail Stewart, a district attorney spokeswoman.

However, that method is not approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, spokeswoman Gail Golab said Thursday. The American Veterinary Medical Association represents 68,000 veterinarians.

Golab said a similar machine is used to kill chicks, but no machine is approved for adult birds.

Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Silva, the county's agriculture prosecutor, was in charge of the case. She did not return phone calls.

After Silva decided not to press charges against Wilgenburg, there was an outcry from animal rights activists around the country.

The Humane Society of the United States and the United Poultry Concerns Inc. were among the organizations that wrote letters urging Dumanis to reconsider the case.

Poultry Concerns' president, Karen Davis, said Thursday that she was pleased that the DA has asked for more interviews.

"I'm hoping that this case will be reopened," she said.

In a February interview, Wilgenburg admitted to putting about 15,000 chickens, thousands still alive, into the chipper. He said the decision to mulch the chickens was made after consulting with a veterinarian.

Wilgenburg said he had no choice but to kill the chickens because of rules imposed by the federal-state Task Force on Newcastle Disease.

Wilgenburg said he was not permitted to ship the chickens, which he said were not diseased, to his other farm in Potrero, and he was forbidden to send them to a Central Valley slaughterhouse. Task force officials conceded that Wilgenburg had been given no alternative but to kill his chickens.

Wilgenburg said he stopped putting live chickens in the mulcher after a county animal services representative contacted a manager at his Potrero farm, where chickens were also being chipped.

"They told us that we had to wring their necks or kill them with (carbon dioxide)," he said. So, he said, they started breaking the chickens' necks first.

Exotic Newcastle disease, which has a mortality rate of between 90 percent and 100 percent in poultry, has hit seven commercial farms in San Diego County since December and 22 commercial farms statewide since October. It is carried in the mucus or feces of infected birds and does not affect humans.

The disease spreads so quickly, task force officials said, that they have to kill every bird at an infected site, even if only a few test positive for the disease. More than 2 million birds have been killed in California because of the outbreak.

The San Diego County farms affected are Ramona Egg Ranch; Armstrong Egg ranches on Cole Grade, Lilac and Mac Tan roads in Valley Center; Foster Enterprises on Cole Grade Road in Valley Center; Fluegge Egg Ranch on Twain Way in Valley Center; and the Ward Egg Ranch on Fruitvale Road.

Wilgenberg said the chickens that tested positive at the Ward Egg Ranch did not belong to him. He sold the farm shortly before killing all of his chickens. Wilgenburg said that birds that tested positive belonged to the farm's new owner.

United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl: http://www.UPC-online.org

United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
FAX: 757-678-5070

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