Published On: Thu, Apr 13th, 2017

Animal welfare advocates come out against inhumane killing methods for farm animals

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and theAmerican Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) today criticized guidelines proposed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) that permit the use of inhumane killing methods, including the use of water-based foam, ventilation shutdown, and live burial, for farm animals.

The proposed “depopulation” guidelines apply to the large-scale killing of farm animals for disease control purposes—such as the elimination of birds infected with, or exposed to, avian influenza (“bird flu”)—or in response to a natural or human-caused disaster. The draft guidelines:

  • Allow for the use of water-based foam—which acts in a manner similar to drowning or suffocation—to kill certain classifications of poultry;
  • Approve, in some situations, of the killing of poultry and pigs by “ventilation shutdown,” which involves turning off the ventilation, causing animals to die by heat stress and suffocation; and
  • Authorize live burial for the killing of some classifications of poultry.

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“The AVMA is proposing to subject animals to the most gruesome deaths imaginable,” said Dena Jones, AWI farm animal program director. “Intentionally inflicting death in a manner that causes elevated and prolonged distress is unacceptable. It is particularly insupportable for a professional scientific body representing veterinarians—who are sworn to protect animals—to propose killing methods that have never been researched for their impact on the welfare of animals.”

The AVMA is proposing that these methods only be allowed in “constrained circumstances,” but less inhumane methods exist, even for exceptional cases. AWI and ASPCA are concerned that over time, use of these methods will become routine, making their availability a disincentive to use or research more acceptable methods.

The animal welfare organizations emphasized that, because the AVMA is only accepting comments on the depopulation proposal from its members, the American public will have no input in the ultimate outcome of the process. While the US Department of Agriculture is not required by law to do so, it typically relies on AVMA guidelines to determine killing methods for depopulation events. The USDA has not indicated that it will solicit public comment before deciding whether to use the AVMA guidelines.

AWI and ASPCA also noted that none of the contested methods—water-based foam, ventilation shutdown, or live burial—are allowed by the depopulation standards of the World Organization for Animal Health, the international authority on animal diseases.

Unfortunately, depopulation is often tied to poor welfare. “Modern industrial agriculture routinely packs animals by the tens and even hundreds of thousands cruelly together in stressful, unsanitary environments that facilitate the rapid spread of disease and suffering,” said Suzanne McMillan, content director of ASPCA’s farm animal campaign. “When crisis inevitably strikes, the AVMA’s depopulation guidelines should still uphold the veterinarian’s oath to prevent and relieve animal suffering and should not provide an ‘easy out’ at the cost of unthinkable cruelty for the sake of perpetuating a dangerous, inhumane, and unsustainable system.”

The animal welfare organizations recognize the need for appropriate biosecurity measures and urge the USDA to give thorough review to the option of vaccination. However, until underlying welfare is seriously addressed by animal agribusiness, outbreaks of animal disease are likely inevitable. Consequently, the organizations believe it is imperative that the AVMA, the USDA, and the animal agriculture industry at the very least invest resources in the development of less inhumane means of mass depopulation.


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