India tries, but cannot find a humane way to kill poultry to stamp out H5N1
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2006:
JALGAON, India–Veterinarian Abdul Kalim Khan died of
jaundice, not the H5N1 avian influenza, Maharashtra state animal
husbandry commissioner Bijay Kumar told media on April 24, 2006.
Khan fell ill soon after helping to kill nearly 200,000 chickens in
the Jalgaon area to contain an H5N1 outbreak, Kumar explained, but
his illness had a different origin.
Through May 2, 2006, India had not yet had any of the 113
reported human H5N1 fatalities worldwide, but at least seven poultry
farmers committed suicide after losing their flocks and/or customers.
Indian poultry sales were reportedly down 40% to 60%, after
averaging 17% growth in recent years. India has the world’s sixth
largest poultry industry, with about 500 million birds on farms at
any given time.
At Anparti, East Godavaria, farmers reportedly gave away
300,000 live chickens whom they could not sell.
“Indian Railways stopped serving egg and chicken curry on
certain routes,” said the Indo-Asian News Service, “while a number
of domestic carriers, including state-owned Indian Airlines,
replaced poultry products with mutton, lamb, and fish.”
A National Egg Coordination Committee press release alleged
that the panic was in response to a false alarm, blaming it on
“Multinational vaccine manufacturing and pharmaceutical companies,
eager to sell their anti-flu drugs in India.”
The Hindu on April 3, 2006 reported about the introduction
of forced molting on farms near Erode to interrupt the egg-laying
cycle. Forced molting usually consists of starving hens for several
days to as long as two weeks, after their egg production declines,
to simulate winter. After their rations are gradually increased back
to normal, the hens respond to the coming of “spring” by again
laying eggs every day. The idea in India, however, was simply to
avoid producing eggs that no one would buy.
Early Indian coverage of poultry culls due to H5N1 paid
notably more attention to animal welfare than the coverage in most
nations. The animal welfare aspects of the culling apparently also
concerned public officials, especially in Maharashtra and Gujarat,
where pro-animal Hindu teachings are accentuated by the strict
vegetarianism of influential Jain and Bishnoi minorities.
But the logistics of trying to kill large numbers of chickens
without cruelty tended to defeat civil servants who often had never
killed anything before.
“Doctor B.R. Patil, leading a team of animal husbandry
volunteers, said the method of poisoning the water was working,”
reported Agence France-Presse from Navapur, the site of the first
Indian outbreak. “Asked if he would sanction strangling the birds,
Patil said: ‘We’re not doing it manually. That’s a cruel method.'”
Countered Meena Menon of The Hindu, “Men in bright
protective gear picked up the hens one by one from the cages,
twisting their necks and putting them into plastic or gunny sacks.
Phenobarbitone, an anaesthetic, had been put in the birds’ water.
However, many birds were still conscious and the men found it a task
to put them into the sacks. The gunnysacks filled with the
struggling birds were dumped into a deep pit dug outside the cages.
A bulldozer was poised at the edge of the pit to bury the birds. In
some cases, the birds were first strangled and thrown into the pit.
But some birds managed to clamber out.”
Parag Rabade of the Deccan Herald mentioned that some birds
Reuters noted that the workers were mostly bare-handed, without masks.
Indian minister for animal husbandry Anees Ahmed told the Indian
Express that the methods available for culling birds were
“inadequate,” and that “steps are being taken to speed up the
As the outbreaks continued, attention to the birds’
suffering diminished. But the Indian Express observed that, “Lack
of machines to dig pits for burying birds has hit the pace of
culling. Unhygienic conditions prevail where culled birds are
buried,” a significant observation to people familiar with normal
Indian waste disposal, much of which is done by street dogs, pigs,
monkeys, scavenging birds, and other urban wildlife.