As if factory farms and chickens suffering with bird flu aren’t disturbing enough, the USDA is currently considering a gruesome method for terminating infected chickens. A viral outbreak of the HPAI virus took more than 200 commercial farms by storm this spring, and led to the euthanizing of 6.5 million turkeys and 42.1 million chickens. Now, according to Motherboard, the USDA is preparing for a possible second wave of the disease by proposing to euthanize infected chickens by shutting off their air supply and slowly cooking them alive.
The method is called a “ventilation shutdown” and involves turning off air systems in chicken houses, which causes the birds to slowly overheat and suffocate. Motherboard notes such a procedure would only be used as a last resort, but could be required at large industrial facilities if the USDA issues a 24-hour window for euthanizing birds if the virus is found.
“It’s not a very pleasant death. In fact it can be pretty horrible,” senior director of veterinary policy for the Humane Society of the United States, Dr. Michael Blackwell told Motherboard. And, given the many ways that the disease can be spread, he questions the value of having an “arbitrary” 24-hour deadline to kill infected chickens.
“Containment is what’s really key once the virus appears,” he said. “If due diligence is given to all of the things that go into containing a virus, there’s no need to try and meet a 24-hour goal.”
According to the USDA, the 24-hour period is key to containing the disease. “A major lesson learned during this year’s avian influenza outbreak is that one key to defeating the disease is speed,” said USDA spokesperson, Lyndsay Cole. “Scientific and epidemiological studies show that this 24-hour window is critical to speed disease response activities and reduce the amount of virus in the environment, helping protect nearby poultry operations from infection and limit the unnecessary loss of animals.”
Other methods of euthanizing birds such as gassing with carbon dioxide or a spray foam that suffocates them are less contentious. But given the fact that some farms have as many as 5 million birds, these methods may be too slow and inefficient for some operations to meet the 24-hour deadline.
Images via Farm Sanctuary, Flickr Creative Commons