Pastured Poultry Producers Do Not Accept Mass Depopulation and Suffocation as Humane
The USDA's “Fall 2015 HPAI Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan” requires all surviving birds in a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) infected flock be killed within 24 hours of a confirmed positive. The American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA) does not condone mass depopulation by any method, and believes strongly that the pastured model reduces the need and opportunity for mass depopulation.
To date, the USDA HPAI reports show that less than 10% of the confirmed cases are backyard flocks. In terms of overall bird mortality, backyard flocks have only accounted for approximately 10,000 of the 48 million deaths that have been attributed to HPAI. The USDA catch-all backyard flock category would include commercial pastured poultry farms if a pastured operation were to become infected with HPAI. However, there is often a difference in flock management between backyard and pastured flocks, primarily as it relates to housing and pasture management.
To achieve the 24 hour depopulation goal, the USDA now endorses ventilation shutdown for depopulation, in addition to foam and carbon dioxide. Shutting down the ventilation in a large concentrated animal feeding operation induces suffocation by heat stress on the flock. Using firefighting foam also suffocates the birds. In neither case is the death fast. Foaming may take several minutes. Shutting down the ventilation system is estimated to take 30 to 40 minutes to kill the flock.
In the USDA's “Stamping-Out and Depopulation Policy,” the department acknowledges that ventilation shutdown is “considered by some to be less humane than other methods, but it can spare the lives of potentially thousands of other birds by halting the infection as soon as it is detected.” The fall and winter of 2015 will likely provide insights into the USDA's theory that the complete, rapid killing of HPAI survivor stock, by any means necessary, inhibits the spread of HPAI. However, we do not have a clear expectation of what constitutes success with this practice.
APPPA sympathizes with the emotional and financial burdens placed on the farmers who are confronted with the loss of flocks to HPAI and the torturous suffocating response to the survivors. No farmer who respects the lives of their animals and looks them in their eyes each day wants to condemn them to die by a virulent disease or by mass killing. However, the fearful days to reconcile those realities are upon us.
There's no pointing fingers or laying blame. We've already arrived at this point, and we should acknowledge our unpleasant realities.
The relevant focus should be in addressing the root cause of an epidemic, such as HPAI. APPPA asserts that the root cause is not a lack of confinement, biosecurity failures, lack of vaccinations, or untimely mass flock depopulation; those are reactions to a problem.
It's time we collectively seek to identify the problem, so we can name it; so we can solve it.
APPPA encourages researchers to invest in understanding the scale possible and the science inherent in raising flocks in natural settings in accordance with the land's capacity and under principled pastured poultry production methods. Pastured poultry relies on outdoor production with access to forage, managed pasture rotation, nutritionally balanced feed, stocking densities that eliminate stress, and humane slaughter that honors the connection between farmer and bird.
The American Pastured Poultry Producers Association provides education and producer resources for pastured poultry farmers.