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The 2022-2023 spread of bird flu in the United States has become the most catastrophic on record, affecting hundreds of poultry factory farms across the nation. The toll is staggering, with a financial cost of $757 million to the federal government and over $1 billion in lost revenue and associated costs for the poultry industry. As the fall of 2023 unfolds, bird flu is resurging, particularly in the Midwest, resulting in the extermination of 4 million chickens and turkeys in just a month and a half. However, the method employed for this mass depopulation, known as “ventilation shutdown plus” (VSD+), has raised ethical concerns and stirred controversy.
Source: Bloomberg Quicktake/YouTube
While many sources euphemistically refer to the killing of birds affected by bird flu as “euthanizing,” the reality is far from the humane end implied by that term. VSD+ involves sealing off the airflow inside barns and subjecting the birds to extreme heat, causing them to die of heatstroke over several hours. This method has been used to eliminate tens of millions of poultry birds during the current avian flu outbreak.
In peer countries like those in the European Union, ventilation shutdown has been effectively banned due to its inhumane nature. However, in the US, it has become a go-to method for the poultry industry, facilitated by the ease with which heaters can be rented off-the-shelf from equipment companies. This method has been used even though the USDA’s own policy states that it should only be employed as a last resort.
USDA regulations indicate that VSD+ should only be used when other depopulation methods like firefighting foam or carbon dioxide poisoning are unavailable on short notice. However, obtaining access to these methods requires planning, something the meat industry and its regulators seem uninterested in ensuring. As a result, VSD+ becomes a convenient option, even though it is considered inhumane.
Reports suggest that some livestock producers, especially large factory farms housing millions of birds, prefer VSD+ due to its logistical ease, requiring fewer staff and less cleanup. This preference is further highlighted by instances where states, like Pennsylvania, have invested in purchasing heaters for ventilation shutdown, reinforcing the notion that VSD+ has become the default depopulation method.
Critics of VSD+ blame the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) for enabling the practice. By classifying the method as “permitted in constrained circumstances,” the AVMA has created a situation where factory farms can claim veterinary approval for mass killings. Despite criticisms and evidence of inhumane practices, the AVMA has not changed its position on ventilation shutdown.
Sign this petition to ask VSD+ to end now!
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