Attn: James Krider, Prosecuting Attorney
Karen Davis, PhD
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150 12325 Seaside Road
Machipongo, VA 23405
November 8, 2000
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney
3000 Rockefeller Avenue
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
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
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.
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,
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
Karen Davis, PhD
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,
Bell, D. Forces that have helped shape the U.S. egg industry: the last
100 years. The Poultry Tribune September
Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. Forced Moulting of Chickens:
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
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?
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United Poultry Concerns. November 8, 2000
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
(UPC Letter to Prosecutor re: Amberson Case)