United Poultry Concerns November 8, 2000
UPC Letter to Prosecutor re: Amberson Case

Attn: James Krider, Prosecuting Attorney

Karen Davis, PhD
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150 12325 Seaside Road
Machipongo, VA 23405
November 8, 2000

Aaron Shields
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney
3000 Rockefeller Avenue
M/S 504
Everett, Washington 98201

On behalf of United Poultry Concerns and our 10,000 members nationwide, I am writing to you regarding the state of Washington vs. Keith Amberson, owner of Amberson Egg Farm in Everett, Washington. Mr. Amberson was charged with misdemeanor cruelty on June 6, 2000 for failing to care for his flock of hens, thereby causing approximately 50 percent of the birds to die from lack of food and water and related pathologies. He is on record as having done this at least twice.

Our office has been informed that Mr. Amberson's trial is being delayed to await the return from out of town of the Washington State University Poultry Veterinarian, Dr. Singh Dhillon, who has agreed to be a defense witness for Mr. Amberson. We understand that Dr. Dhillon did not examine any of the hens in question, dead or alive, did not visit the Amberson Egg Farm during the time period under consideration, and did not perform any necropsies on the hens in question; yet he planning to testify that the mortalities that occurred were not due to starvation and/or dehydration of the hens but, rather, that the mortalities resulted from the hens' inability to adapt to the sanctuary to which a number of them were taken (Pasado's Safe Haven). We understand that all of the necropsies, except Dr. Dhillon's, stipulated that the examined birds died as a result of long-term starvation.

United Poultry Concerns has conducted a ten-year investigation into the practice of food deprivation to induce molting (the shedding and replacement of feathers) in commercial laying flocks. The evidence overwhelmingly shows that prolonged food deprivation is so stressful to the birds that it impairs their immune systems predisposing them and their eggs to Salmonella enteritidis infection. I respectfully submit for your consideration of Mr. Amberson's case the following information concerning the effects of food and/or water deprivation on chickens and other animals based on decades of research on a wide range of species. Water deprivation, which used to be practiced commercially, has virtually ceased to be done, and is no long recommended but is actively discouraged, as the combination of food and water deprivation was so injurious as to judged commercially impractical. Our understanding is that Mr. Amberson's hens endured food and water deprivation simultaneously for a continuous number of days. We respectfully draw your attention to the fact that, at most, the Virginia Cooperative Extension warns producers: "restrict [water] no more than two consecutive half days." We further point out that the United Egg Producers' own Animal Welfare Advisory Committee opposes molting by means of food deprivation, stating:

Behavioral and immune system measures indicate that the welfare of the hen is compromised when feed withdrawal or restriction is used to induce a molt. . . . We do not believe that feed restriction or withdrawal to induce a molt should be continued. (Armstrong, Letter, March 31, 2000).

Food Deprivation Constitutes a Trauma.

Chickens have been scientifically shown to have a complex nervous system and cognitive capacity. They have a demonstrated ability to suffer from acute and chronic stress, pain, and fear. Like mammals subjected to aversive stimuli, chickens show a rapid increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and behavioral changes consistent with those found in mammals including efforts to escape, distress cries, guarding behavior [protection of a wound or the self from further harm], and passive immobility characteristic of birds and mammals subjected to trauma that continues regardless of the victim's attempts to reduce or eliminate the trauma. We respectfully draw your attention to the fact that food deprivation has been scientifically characterized as a "trauma" (Holt et al., 1994:1268), i.e., a physical or emotional wound or injury. According to Peter Holt and his colleagues:

Recently Rolon et al. (1993) described a low-energy, low-density, low-Ca diet which, when given in limited amounts, induced molting as effectively as long-term feed removal. Because the hens remain on feed throughout the entire molt procedure, the physiological impact of administering such a molt diet may be less traumatic than total feed removal." (Holt et al., 1994:1268)

The point of interest here is the acknowledgement-the unqualified scientific assertion and assumption--that food deprivation constitutes a trauma and that even a reduction of nutrients and feeding opportunities is traumatic for the birds. In determining whether failing to feed chickens constitutes cruelty under Washington's animal cruelty law, and whether Mr. Amberson's hens might reasonably be said to have suffered and, in a thousand or more cases, to have died as a result of not being feed or not having food, it is important to bear in mind that the practice has been scientifically characterized in the medical and scientific sense of the term as a trauma.

Chickens are Sentient Creatures with Cognitive Complexity.

Concerning the capacity of birds, including the chicken, to suffer, and the consequent obligation to accord to them the ethical consideration accorded to mammals, animal scientist Michael J. Gentle states: "[I]t is clear that, with regard to the anatomical, physiological and behavioural parameters measured, there are no major differences and therefore the ethical consideration normally afforded to mammals should be extended to birds" (1992:235). Chickens possess cognitive complexity, which increases their capacity to suffer from what is done to them. According to avian physiologist Lesley J. Rogers, who specializes in the chicken, cognitive research shows that "the chicken is not an inferior species to be treated merely as a food source" (Rogers, 1995, 13). In every relevant respect, she states, "It is now clear that birds have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates" (Rogers, 1995, 217).

Forced Molting is Strictly an Economic Practice. It Treats Chickens "Merely as a Food Source."

The sole purpose of depriving chickens of food by the poultry and egg industries is to extend their "economically useful life." Since the 1960s, forced molting ("recycling" of force-molted survivors) has become the "dominant replacement program for the U.S. table egg industry" (Bell, 1995, 38). According to the industry, "Egg-producing hens may be molted one or more times. . . . It costs less to molt a hen and bring her back into egg production than it does to grow a pullet from one day of age to egg production. This is a prime cost factor in making the decision of whether to molt or not to molt." (North and Bell 435-436).

Forced Molting Causes Pathologic Changes in Hens that Both Constitute and Manifest the Suffering-the Experience of Misery and Bearing of Harm--Imposed on Them in Being Deprived of Sustenance for Days and Weeks at a Time.

Extending a hen's "economically useful life" is not synonymous with providing for a hen's wellbeing. On the contrary, the "stress [that] must be created to cause the birds to drop their feathers " (North and Bell, 434) has been documented in detail for more than a decade. In study after study, the "traumatic physiological impact" of food deprivation has been shown to result in a significant increase in systemic and infectious diseases:

Molted birds shed significantly higher numbers of SE [Salmonella Enteritidis] during the feed removal period than the unmolted group. Histological examination of cecum and colon from molted infected hens revealed inflammation compared with minimal changes in the intestines of unmolted infected hens. Molting, in combination with an SE infection, created an actual disease state in the alimenary tract of affected hens. (Holt & Porter, 1992:1842)

In a 17-page scientific review paper, "Impact of Induced Molting on Immunity and Salmonella enteritidis infection in Laying Hens," U.S. Department of Agriculture immunologist Peter S. Holt cites studies showing that deficient diets diminished cell-mediated immunity in mammals and birds (p. 3). He compares this evidence to the effects of forced molting by means of food deprivation. The paper emphasizes the immune system impairment that results from depriving chickens, the same as other animals, of food:

"An altered immune response was also [in addition to other pathologic changes] observed in birds subjected to induced molting through feed withdrawal" (p. 3).

"Total peripheral blood lymphocyte numbers were significantly decreased in molted birds" (p. 3).

"Elevated levels of serum corticosterone were detected during times of stress [in birds and mammals in other food deprivation studies]. . . . A similar elevation in this stress hormone was noted in hens subjected to feed removal" (pp. 3-4).

"The discovery [was made] that the immune system in molted hens was compromised" (p. 4).

"The potential problems associated with the presence of S. [Salmonella] enteritidis in the flock environment therefore become exacerbated when birds are exposed to a stress situation such as feel removal" (p. 5).

"Stress situations can reactivate a previous infection . . . and feed withdrawal to induce a molt can also cause the recurrence of a previous S. enteritidis infection" (p. 5).

"[R]ecrudescence of infection was observed significantly more often in molted birds. . . . The molted hens also produced more eggs contaminated with the organism" (p. 5).

To summarize what scientists have shown over and over in study after study for decades: "Induced moulting is a form of starvation and a body of literature has shown that dietary restriction can alter humoral and cell-mediated immunity. Over all, deficient diets have been found to diminish humoral immune responses in humans, rats, mice, and chickens. A variety of effects of similar diets on cellular immune responses were also observed" (Holt, 1992:165). . . . "Studies in the authors' laboratory have shown that induced molting significantly depressed the cellular immune response" in chickens (Holt and Porter, 1992:1842).

Forced Molting Causes Pathological Behavior in Chickens Indicative of Suffering Resulting from Food Deprivation.

Chickens deprived of food show how aversive they find food deprivation to be. According to Ian J.H. Duncan and Joy Mench in a Letter to the Editor in Poultry Science, June 2000, "Does Hunger Hurt," the evidence presented in a recent study (Webster, Poultry Science 79:192-2000) "does suggest suffering: the increased aggression suggests severe frustration and the increased non-nutritive pecking, some of which was stereotyped, suggests severe frustration and extreme hunger, and the reduced activity suggests debilitation" (p. 934). Force molted hens have been observed to pluck and consume the feathers of adjacent hens in their effort to reduce the hunger and nutrient deprivation imposed on them during the forced molt (Holt, 1995:248). Hens being force- molted must endure being not only starved but plucked by other starving hens. Being plucked is both stressful and painful. In "Physiological and behavioural responses associated with feather removal in Gallus gallus var domesticus [chickens]," Gentle and Hunter state:

Nociceptors [pain receptors] have been identified in the skin of several avian species and the detailed stimulus-response characteristics of these receptors have been determined in the chicken. The follicular wall of the feather is richly supplied with general somatic afferent (sensory) fibres and nerves are present in the papilla, pulp and feather muscles. . . . The feather is firmly held in the follicle. (p. 95)

The pathological passivity and "learned helplessness" that occurs under the debilitating conditions imposed by food deprivation and other cruelties has been characterized as follows:

It would be conceptually meaningless to assume that such states could in any way be experienced by an animal as "normal" or "adapted." Behavioural flexibility represents the very capacity to achieve well-being or adaptation; impairment of such capacity presumably leaves an animal in a helpless state of continuous suffering. (Wemelsfelder, 1991:122).

Starvation and Fasting are Not the Same.

The poultry and egg industries have developed a vocabulary designed to disguise the reality of forced molting by means of food deprivation. In the 1960s the phrase "severe starvation methods" was used (Bell, Feedstuffs July 1, 1967:24). Today, euphemisms are employed to describe the infliction of starvation on hens for strictly economic purposes-"rest," "pause," "fast." However, a trauma cannot at the same time be a "rest" (except from the harsh lighting schedule to which the hens are subjected to manipulate egg production), and fasting is self-imposed behavior, not food removal. To fast means to abstain from all or certain foods voluntarily. Fasting is a behavior that proceeds from within an individual or a species as part of a larger purpose or activity that is meaningful with respect to that individual or species. Examples in other species include hibernation, migration, and the 1-3 day hatching of chicks. In human beings, fasting is normally undertaken for perceived health, ethical or political benefits. Or one gets engaged in an activity and forgets to eat-a totally different experience from having your food taken away from you and preventing you from getting any. Fasting, by definition, is not something that one creature imposes upon another. In this regard, the term "anorexia" means loss of appetite or refusal to eat, not food deprivation or removal. Force molted hens do not stop eating because they lose their appetite or don't want to eat. They stop eating because their food is taken away from them. A visitor to a caged hen complex in Pennsylvania described the first day of a 7-day forced molting program: "When the lights came on, the cackling and clucking rose to a cacophony, accompanied by the sound of thousands of beaks pecking on metal" (Geist, 1991:3).

Neither naturally molting chickens nor brooding hens stop eating for days, let alone weeks, at a time. Chickens undergoing a natural molt-the purpose of which is to maintain good plumage and feather structure at all times and maintain a healthy body temperature-continue to eat, a fact that can be easily observed at our sanctuary in Virginia in the early fall. A hen with a clutch of eggs-a brooding hen in a state of motherhood-leaves her nest for ten to twenty minutes each day until the hatching commences, in order to eat, drink water, defecate, and exercise. Artificially incubated eggs must be cooled for 15 to 20 minutes a day to mimic the time the hen is away from her nest. The hen does not desert her nest during the day or two that it takes for her chicks to hatch, after which she and her brood go out and forage (scratch and search) for food. As noted in Science magazine in an article on "Animal anorexias,"

While it is presumably possible in theory that the hen is getting hungrier and hungrier as she sits on the nest, a much more elegant and safer solution to the problem would be to lower the set-point [for body fat] and avoid clashes between incubating and eating. Similarly, in the case of hibernators, the motivation to hibernate would have to be very strong to overcome the temptations of food lying right under the animal's nose. (Mrosovsky and Sherry, 1980:839).

As this article explains, when animals fast in nature, fasting is an integral part of their being "engaged in other important activities that compete with feeding." "[F]asting is physiologically different from starvation" (Mrosovsky and Sherry, 840). Pathetically, whereas the brooding hen is fully intent upon her "other important activities that compete with feeding," the food-deprived hen has been stripped without compensation of her only pleasure, virtually her only activity in confinement, which is eating.

Naturally Molting Chickens and Brooding Hens Do Not Develop Impaired Immune Systems, Transmittable Diseases and Systemic Pathologies as Do Food Deprived Birds and Mammals, Including Force-Molted Hens.

Animals in nature do not develop immune dysfunction, intestinal inflammation, and pathogen colonization as a result of fasting that has been shown to be a part of their evolved repertoire of behaviors. If animal in nature developed the pathologies that have been scientifically observed and characterized many times over in deliberately food-deprived birds and mammals, they simply wouldn't survive. A brooding hen infected with Salmonella enteritidis and the wide variety of pathologic conditions, including "severe intestinal infection" (Holt, et al., 1994:1267) and behavioral debilitation, all of which have been causally linked to forced molting in over a decade of studies, would not be able to perform her maternal functions or to produce viable chicks. The pathologic behavior and physiologic changes that have been documented in food-deprived animals, including force-molted hens, demonstrate the utter cruelty to which these birds are being subjected for strictly commercial purposes.

In Conclusion, United Poultry Concerns urges the prosecution of Keith Amberson for cruelty to animals under the Washington animal cruelty laws. In addition, we believe that Dr. Dhillon's role in this case should be scrutinized by the Washington state board of veterinarians and that questions should be raised regarding his ability to practice veterinary medicine in the future. Even the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which at the policy making level is very involved economically with the poultry and egg industry, has revised its position on food and water deprivation, now stating: "The once-practiced long-term feed and water withdrawal that resulted in high levels of mortality is not acceptable. Under no circumstances should water be withheld" (AVMA Position on Induced Molting in Layer Hens, 1999). The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) categorically opposes forced molting by means of food and/or water deprivation, stating: "During the time of [restricting feed and/or water for periods ranging from two days to three weeks], birds show behavioural signs indicating intense frustration. The resulting weight loss of approximately thirty percent is associated with reproductive system regression, and to a lesser extent with reduced liver size, and loss of body fat, feathers and muscle. As well, mortality is increased. The CVMA believes that such deprivation is sufficiently severe to compromise animal welfare" ("Forced Moulting of Chickens: Position).

There is no scientific excuse for contradicting the wealth of evidence that food and/or water deprivation constitutes cruelty to animals, and that in failing to provide food and water for his birds, Keith Amberson behaved in a cruel manner towards them which resulted in the suffering of all of the birds and in the death of many of them as a result of his intentional or unintentional neglect.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for further information at 757-678-7875.


Karen Davis, PhD
Ph: 757-678-7875
Fax: 757-678-5070
Website: www.upc-online.org


Armstrong, Jeffrey D. Chair, U[nited] E[gg] P[roducers] Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. Letter to The Honorable Dennis Cardoza, California State Assembly. March 31, 2000.

AVMA Position on Induced Molting in Layer Hens.

Bell, D. The economics of various molting methods. Feedstuffs July 1, 1967: 21+.

Bell, D. Forces that have helped shape the U.S. egg industry: the last 100 years. The Poultry Tribune September 1995:30-43.

Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. Forced Moulting of Chickens: Position.

Duncan, I.J.H., and Joy Mench. June 2000. Does Hunger Hurt? Letter to the Editor. Poultry Science 79.6:934.

Geist, K. The Friendly Vegetarian. Washington DC: Friends Vegetarian Society of North America, 1991:37.

Gentle, M.J., and L.N. Hunter. 1990. Physiological and behavioural responses associated with feather removal in Gallus gallus var domesticus. Research in Veterinary Science 50:95-101.

Gentle, M.J. 1992. Pain in birds. Animal Welfare 1:235-247.

Holt, P.S. 1992. Effects of induced moulting on immune responses of hens. British Poultry Science 33:165-175.

Holt, P.S. and R.E. Porter. 1992. Effect of induced molting on the course of infection and transmission of Salmonella enteritidis in white leghorn hens of different ages. Poultry Science 71:1842-1848.

Holt, P.S. 1994. Effect of Two Different Molting Procedures on a Salmonella enteritidis infection. Poultry Science 73:1267-1275.

Holt. P.S. n.d. Impact of Induced Molting on Immunity and Salmonella enteritidis infection in Laying Hens. USDA-A[gricultural] R[esearch] S[ervice] Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory. Athens, GA.

Mrosovsky, N. and D.F. Sherry. 1980. Animal anorexias. Science 207:837-842.

North, M.O., and D.D. Bell. Commercial Chicken Production Manual. 4th ed. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1990.

Rogers, L.J. The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken. Wallingford, Oxon, U.K.: Cab International 1995.

Wemelsfelder, F. Animal boredom: do animals miss being alert and active? Applied Animal Behaviour: Past, Present and Future. Ed. M.C. Appleby, et al. Potters Bar, Hertz, U.K.: United Federation for Animal Welfare 1991, pp. 120-123.

Related Links:

United Poultry Concerns. November 8, 2000

United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
FAX: 757-678-5070

(UPC Letter to Prosecutor re: Amberson Case)