Blind “justice” can’t tell chickens from dead wood
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2003:
SAN DIEGO, California–Ward Poultry Farm owners Arie and
Bill Wilgen-burg, of Escondido, California, will not be charged
with cruelty for having employees toss more than 60,000 live hens
into wood chippers, the San Diego County district attorney’s office
announced on April 10, because the Wilgenburgs were told to chip the
chickens alive by a USDA-accredited veterinarian.
The veterinarian was neither working for the USDA nor
representing it, but was advising the Wilgenbergs about killing
their flocks, at two sites, to help halt the spread of the worst
outbreak of Newcastle disease since 12 million chickens and other
domestic birds were killed to control an outbreak in 1971.
San Diego County Animal Services Lieutenant Mary Kay Gagliardo later
told the Wilgenburgs to stop macerating the hens alive.
Live maceration would be prosecutable cruelty almost anywhere
if done to a pet. When done as a routine agricultural practice,
however, it is exempt from prosecution in most states, and is in
fact among the most common means used by egg ranchers to dispose of
unwanted male chicks and spent hens.
The southern California outbreak of Newcastle had already
become not only one of the biggest “depopulations” of diseased farm
animals in the U.S. in many years, but also one of the most
publicized, since it involved people other than farmers.
“Some wild birds have also been killed,” reported Los
Angeles Times staff writers Tina Daunt and Bob Pool, as parrot
fanciers scrambled to save their birds from inspectors conducting
door-to-door searches based on tips provided by letter carriers.
First detected in the Los Angeles area during September 2002,
the Newcastle outbreak appears to have spread to Arizona, Nevada,
and Texas through illegal traffic in fighting cocks. It crossed into
egg-laying flocks in February, possibly through egg ranch workers
who attend cockfights.
As of mid-April, more than 3.2 million chickens had been
killed at 22 commercial businesses in futile efforts to contain the
outbreak, along with 137,000 poultry of various species from yard
flocks. The Newcastle control program had cost $73 million.
Dutch avian flu
Yet it was far from the biggest “depopulation” of chickens
underway in the world to try to stop disease outbreaks. More than 15
million chickens were killed in The Netherlands from mid-February
through mid-April to fight avian flu. The outbreak nonetheless
spread to Belgium, where whole-flock killing began on April 16.
Avian flu outbreaks among factory farmed hens are not
unusual, but the Dutch epidemic caused extra concern after a
57-year-old veterinarian from Den Bosch fell ill on April 4 after
visiting some of the afflicted poultry barns. He died on April 17.
At least 70 poultry workers developed a related form of
conjunctivitis, and in at least three cases they appeared to have
infected family members.
Avian flu antibodies were found in pigs near the poultry
barns, intensifying epidemiologists’ fears .about the possible
consequences if the flu mutates to travel from person to person and
is a deadly variety. New flu strains usually travel from birds to
pigs to humans. The only strain known to have passed directly from
birds to humans killed six of 18 infected Hong Kong residents in 1997
and killed one man in February 2003.
Flu rarely kills otherwise healthy humans, but one mutant
strain killed from 40 to 100 million people in 1918.
Dutch officials began killing potentially infected pigs on April 18.
“Don’t want to know”
The U.S. poultry industry kills more than 9.5 billion birds
per year. Much beyond live maceration occurs that would be
considered unacceptably cruel if done to other animals, as was
exemplified by three situations coming to light in February 2003.
Almost a million hens were killed when heavy snow caused 68
poultry barns to collapse in Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland.
Most of the hens did not die immediately beneath the debris.
Instead, they slowly starved, froze, drowned in melting snow, or
suffered for days with injuries until the ruined barns were tented
and fumigated with carbon monoxide several days later.
“As far as we’re concerned, this is a violation of
Maryland’s felony anti-cruelty law. There are dead birds, already
decomposing, in cages with live or injured animals,” Compassion
Over Killing executive director Myun Park told Chris Guy of the
Baltimore Sun, after a visit to one of the fallen barns.
But there were no cruelty charges.
During the same week, PETA distributed an affidavit from
ex-Tyson poultry slaughterhouse worker Virgil Butler. Employed by
Tyson from July 1997 until November 2002, Butler “told of birds
regularly being left in cages on trucks for hours in the summer heat,
many of whom died of dehydration,” said the electronic activist
newsletter Farmed Animal Watch, edited by Mary Finelli.
“Others died inside of heat stroke, heart attack, and
suffocation, or froze to death in cold weather. Butler also
explained how birds had their legs broken to fit them into hanging
shackles,” the account continued. “Butler wrote of the processing
line breaking down, resulting in birds left to drown in the cold
water stun bath. He told of his supervisor requiring the power to
the electric water bath to be kept turned down, resulting in large
percentages of birds missing the stunner, evading the killer, and
instead being scalded to death,” Farmed Animal Watch added, before
moving from the routine cruelties that Butler saw to overt acts of
sadism that he also described.
Still during February, the Humane Society of the U.S.
newsletter HumaneLines described “thousands of chickens starving to
death after Empresas Pic poultry [of Puerto Rico] filed for
bankruptcy and stopped supplying food for the 182 farmers” who raised
chickens under contract to Empresas.
Commented Louise Chu of Associ-ated Press in January, “In
the debate over poultry processing, producers and animal rights
activists agree on one thing: consumers don’t want to know the
Alberta Egg Producers animal welfare chair Manfred Kannehl
warned members in March that, “If you people don’t get your act
together and get the proper cage size and enshrine it in your
regulations, within five years we are going to have the grocery
chains coming into our barns,” seeking to enforce humane standards
demanded by consumers.
The Alberta Egg Producers reportedly agreed to require new
poultry facilities to give chickens 67 square inches of space apiece,
rather than the 64 square inches that Alberta law requires–which is
still far less than the 72-square-inch standard now requested by the
McDonald’s restaurant chain.
In Britain, meanwhile, agriculture minister Elliot Morley
deferred making any ruling on the legality of a new “enriched”
battery cage pending a European Union review of whether the new cages
meet the requirements of an EU battery cage ban, supposed to take
effect in 2012. The enriched cages are slightly bigger and include
However, said Compassion In World Farming spokesperson Peter
Stevenson, “We believe enriched cages are just as bad as
conventional cages, since they are too small to allow birds to even
stretch and flap their wings properly, and will cause hens almost as
much suffering as conventional cages.”
While fighting that battle on behalf of egg-laying hens,
Compassion In World Farming in early April filed suit seeking to
require the British government to ban raising so-called
“fast-growing” broiler fowl, who reach slaughter weight in half as
many days as the broiler fowl of circa 1970. The accelerated growth,
Stevenson alleged, “leads each year to millions, probably tens of
millions, of broilers in the U.K. suffering from painful, sometimes
crippling leg disorders.”
Poultry industry spokespersons claim only about 2% of all
British broilers are so afflicted, which would be 16 million per
year; CIWF says it is more like 30%, or about 240 million.