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‘VENTILATION SHUTDOWN’: Amid bird-flu outbreak, meat producers seek brutal mass killing of chickens

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They are literally fighting for their lives, they’re gasping for air, they’re struggling. These birds look like they’re vocalizing to me. I think they were probably crying out.

MARINA BOLOTNIKOVA: A hen, hooked up to electrodes, stands alone in a glass cage. She starts panting, thrashing, slumping over, and lunging at the enclosure’s walls, appearing to look for an escape. Outside the cage, researchers point, take notes, and watch her die. These scenes, which took place at North Carolina State University, were documented in 10 hours of video footage recently obtained via public records requests by the organization Animal Outlook and shared with The Intercept.

The experiments were funded by the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, a major industry trade group, and took place in the wake of the 2015 outbreak of an aggressive bird flu that resulted in the culling of about 50 million farmed birds — not all of them necessarily infected — across the United States. The researchers were testing what was then a relatively new set of disease control methods: known as “ventilation shutdown,” the process kills the animals through heatstroke and suffocation, similar to dying in a hot car. According to Will Lowrey, the Animal Outlook attorney who obtained the videos, “the suffering is extremely profound”…

In 2020, Iowa Select Farms, the state’s largest pork producer, killed healthy pigs, who could not be slaughtered for food due to Covid-induced slaughterhouse closures, by sealing off the airways and pumping in heat: a practice called “ventilation shutdown plus.” In a groundbreaking undercover investigation covered by The Intercept, the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere revealed pigs screaming in distress for hours as they, essentially, roasted to death. Soon after, Iowa Select announced that it was discontinuing its use of the method, commonly abbreviated as VSD+. New documents obtained through federal and state public records requests reveal that, far from being an aberration, the meat industry’s use of this gruesome method is still on the rise — and it’s being abetted by government and organized veterinary medicine.

Now, another strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, is tearing through the country. More than 27 million chickens, turkeys, and other birds have been killed or scheduled to be killed — or “depopulated,” in meat industry jargon — since February. Many of these animals were killed with ventilation shutdown plus. In Iowa, the nation’s top egg-producing state, 5.3 million hens at a Rembrandt Enterprises egg factory farm were exterminated with VSD+ last month…

Ventilation shutdown plus was also used in February at two chicken and turkey facilities in Kentucky, according to records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, which oversees management of farm animal disease outbreaks. In Minnesota, more than 1.7 million birds, mostly turkeys, have been or will soon be depopulated since the state’s first avian flu case on March 25, with an increasing number killed using VSD+ compared to the 2015 bird flu…

The videos obtained from NC State are remarkable because the meat industry often claims that undercover footage of cruel conditions taken by activists is doctored or staged. But these videos came directly from an industry-funded study, the raw footage of which was shared with The Intercept.

The research tested multiple versions of VSD: ventilation shutdown alone, which entails sealing off airflow to the birds’ cages, causing their body temperatures to rise to lethal levels; ventilation shutdown with additional heat, which speeds the process of killing them via heatstroke; and ventilation shutdown with carbon dioxide, which deprives the chickens’ bodies of oxygen. VSD with the addition of either or both of these is referred to as “VSD+.”

The hens took more than 91 minutes to die from ventilation shutdown alone, 54 minutes to die from VSD with supplemental heat, and 11.5 minutes to die from VSD with carbon dioxide, according to a 2017 final report based on the research that was submitted to the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association… “These are birds in extreme distress,” said Sherstin Rosenberg, a veterinarian who has cared for thousands of chickens and other poultry birds at an animal sanctuary in California, after reviewing the NC State footage.

“They are literally fighting for their lives, they’re gasping for air, they’re struggling.” The videos don’t have any audio, but Rosenberg added: “These birds look like they’re vocalizing to me. I think they were probably crying out”… In the global scientific community, she said, “it’s generally accepted that, if one could assume that a procedure would cause pain or distress to a human, you can also assume it would do the same for an animal.”

By one count, more than 1,500 U.S. veterinarians, including Reyes-Illg, have urged the American Veterinary Medical Association to reclassify VSD+ as not recommended. AVMA guidelines themselves aren’t legally binding, but they often become the basis for policy… Whatever the kill method used, factory farm conditions make it exceedingly difficult to carry out depopulations with full mortality, Rosenberg said. “We can quibble about degrees of suffering,” she said. “But in the end, they’re all just terrible methods of killing”. SOURCE…

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