Top Veterinary Group Proposes Guidelines That Allow Burying Chickens Alive

Animal advocates are not pleased with the American Veterinary Medical Association, or AVMA, these days. What could make them so disappointed in the one class of medical professionals sworn to protect and care for all animals? It all comes down to new proposed guidelines that would allow inhumane methods of killing large numbers of farm animals.

You see, the AMVA now says in certain scenarios — think avian flu or swine flu outbreaks – it would be permissible to kill animals like pigs, chickens and turkeys by the following methods:

  • Water-based foam to suffocate or “drown” chickens;
  • “Ventilation shutdown,” which essentially “bakes” animals alive by turning off the ventilation so poultry and pigs will die from heat stress and suffocation; and
  • Live burial for chickens

How can veterinarians decide that these methods of euthanasia are acceptable, you ask? That’s a good question.

Animal protection groups like the Animal Welfare Institute, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Compassion Over Killing don’t understand it either. And they’re sharply criticizing the proposal.

This type of mass killing is called “depopulation.” That’s quite a euphemism for agonizing mass slaughter, isn’t it?

According to the AVMA:

Mass depopulation refers to methods by which large numbers of animals must be destroyed quickly and efficiently with as much consideration given to the welfare of the animals as practicable, but where the circumstances and tasks facing those doing the depopulation are understood to be extenuating.

Humane methodologies be damned, apparently. If the situation warrants it and the numbers to be “depopulated” are high, says the AVMA, chickens should be killed as expeditiously as possible — even if they’ll suffer as they slowly die.

What kind of stance is this for a professional organization charged with protecting the health and welfare of animals?

The AVMA and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service list the following as conditions under which “depopulation” using foam can be considered:

  • Animals are infected with a potentially zoonotic disease — one that can spread between animals and people;
  • Animals are experiencing an outbreak of a rapidly spreading infectious disease that, in the opinion of state or federal regulatory officials, cannot be contained by conventional or currently accepted means of depopulation; or
  • Animals are housed in structurally unsound buildings that would be hazardous for human entry, such as those that may result from a natural disaster.

Water-based foam basically drowns chickens outright. And there’s no way to know how badly they suffer because you can’t hear their cries under all that heavy foam.

Ventilation shutdown is a slower, even more horrible death. It’s pretty much the mass equivalent of being sealed in a hot car to die.

Sick chickens

“Think of all the dogs and babies that have accidentally been left in cars over the years,” The Humane Society of the United States’ Paul Shapiro told The Washington Post in 2015. “They suffocate, they slow-burn alive—it’s a terrible thing. Now imagine multiplying that by hundreds of thousands or even millions of animals. Does that sound humane?”

Then there’s being buried alive. We’ve all awakened in a cold sweat from a “buried alive” nightmare. Millions of chickens, turkeys and pigs experience that suffocating horror every year. It’s cheap and easy to dig a hole, after all.

“The AVMA is proposing to subject animals to the most gruesome deaths imaginable,” said Animal Welfare Institute farm animal program director Dena Jones in a press release. “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 AWI and ASPCA insist that more humane killing methods exist, even for extreme circumstances like those described above. They worry that if these crueler — but cheaper and more expedient — measures are authorized, eventually “use of these methods will become routine, making their availability a disincentive to use or research more acceptable methods.”

Hens in the henhouse

Can you blame them for this concern? It’s unquestionably valid. Industrialized animal farming doesn’t exist for the welfare of the animals, after all. It’s a money-making business.

If a farm has thousands — or even millions — of chickens it’s forced to kill quickly, speed and cost are paramount considerations. Kindness to the animals is an afterthought, if it comes up at all.

“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, ASPCA’s farm animal campaign content director.

“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,” McMillan added.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that none of these horrible killing methods are allowed by the depopulation standards of the World Organization for Animal Health, the international intergovernmental organization responsible for improving animal health worldwide. The United States is a member country of this organization.

When poultry farms are struck with fast-spreading diseases like avian flu, there are AVMA-recognized ways to cull the poor, sick birds without sentencing them to suffocate, bake alive or die after being buried alive.

For example, the birds can be gassed with carbon dioxide so they fall asleep before they die. How hard is that to arrange? If you can fill the building they live in with foam, you can gas them to sleep in that same building.

Pig Farm

How about requiring farms to be capable of humane culling when extreme emergencies like swine or avian flu crop up? These situations are not rare occurrences, after all. Keeping huge populations of chickens, turkeys and pigs in close quarters and sub-optimal conditions is like creating a permanent petri dish for disease.

Requiring these facilities to have a truly humane method immediately on hand for disease-related emergencies seems to be a no-brainer, yet there’s no such mandate.

The AVMA didn’t accept comments from the public on these proposed new guidelines. Only AVMA members got to submit their thoughts. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will need to consider adopting these guidelines. Perhaps they will seek public comment along the way.

If you want to be sure your voice is heard on this issue, please sign this petition. Care2 will deliver it to current AVMA president Dr. Thomas Meyer. AVMA may not have asked for your opinion, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it to them anyway.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing.

Telica R
Telica R1 years ago

what the heck

Melania P
Melania P1 years ago

Aren't vets supposed to work for the welfare of animals? This is disgusting, disgusting "human beings" who work there! And crazy the ones, if, who accept these guidelines! Keep us posted, sharing as well.

Margie FOURIE1 years ago

This is inhumane.

Mark D
Mark Donner1 years ago

Whoever these AVMA quacks are, they should be buried alive as soon as possible. I'm tired of filthy criminals posing as medicos.

Armand F
Armand G F1 years ago

This is why we must stay constantly vigilant and active to protect all creatures.

Elaine D
Elaine D1 years ago

Thank you

cristiano torchio

I can't believe I live in a world where these things happens!

Terri S
Terri S1 years ago

Stop factory farming altogether and problem solved!!!!

rosario p
rosario p.1 years ago

PREVENTIVE SACRIFICE. 99% of this animals are not sick yet. France killed this last winter already near 2 million ducks because of outbreaks and took the radical measure to kill them all in an attempt to control. Obviously nobody would do preventive sacrifice of humans, quarantine would be applied, but not for animals. So as minimum give them a quick, unconscious an indolent death. By using compressed CO2 and O2 is added, p.e. O2 - 30% and
CO2 - 70%), decreases the distress caused by hypoxia prior to the onset of narcosis and anesthesia. It is neither expensive nor flammable nor explosive and represents a minimum risk for the personnel when used with appropriately designed instruments.