United Poultry Concerns February 22, 2003

Wood chippers used to reduce flocks at two poultry ranches

Thousands of birds killed in machines


By Elizabeth Fitzsimons

February 22, 2003

Workers at poultry ranches in Valley Center and Potrero have been throwing thousands of live chickens into wood chippers to thin their flocks, animal control officers discovered this week.

Neither of the farms, owned by Ward Egg Ranch, had been infected with exotic Newcastle, a deadly avian virus that has struck 16 Southern California poultry ranches. Workers told authorities they were destroying old, unproductive hens and were following the advice of veterinarians affiliated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"The magnitude of the suffering is enormous, and it's matched only by the magnitude of the stupidity and the callousness," said Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States.

Messages left at Ward Egg Ranch were not returned. A woman who answered the phone last night said the ranch was not commenting.

The San Diego County Department of Animal Services is continuing to investigate, said Lauren Joniaux, regional director for the South County shelter in Bonita.

"This was absolutely not an approved method of euthanasia on these animals," said animal control Lt. Mary Kay Gagliardo.

She and others with the animal services department said they had never heard of destroying animals in a wood chipper. However, a spokesman for the USDA said the practice has been considered by some in the poultry industry to depopulate their flocks.

Thirty thousand chickens were destroyed at the Valley Center ranch on Fruitvale Road, Gagliardo said. She said most of the birds were alive when thrown in the chipper. At the Potrero ranch, on state Route 94 in the southeastern part of the county, it was unclear how many birds had been destroyed, Joniaux said.

Ranches typically destroy birds by gassing them or breaking their necks.

One worker at the Potrero ranch told an investigator that their arms had gotten tired from breaking the chickens' necks, so they threw them into the machinery, Gagliardo said.

Gagliardo said she was referred by a ranch foreman to a veterinarian, Gregg Cutler.

Cutler told her he directed the ranch to use the chipper, and it was "humane because it was immediate and painless. And he absolutely stands by it still," Gagliardo said.

Gagliardo said Cutler told her he was also an epidemiologist and a consultant to the USDA.

When reached yesterday, Cutler said he had no idea what the ranches were doing, and he had no affiliation with the USDA.

"I just choose not to discuss anything," Cutler said.

A Valley Center resident tipped off Animal Services to the case, Gagliardo said. Investigators visited the Valley Center ranch Thursday and, after learning of its connection to the Potrero site, visited there, too.

Gagliardo said the ranches were planning to use the chicken remains for fertilizer. The Valley Center ranch is near ranches infected with exotic Newcastle disease.

At ranches were the disease has been detected, state and federal officials always euthanize the birds with carbon dioxide, said Larry Hawkins, a USDA spokesman. He said the shredding of the birds did not pose a threat of spreading the disease because they had not contracted it.

Elizabeth Fitzsimons:
(760) 752-6743; elizabeth.fitzsimons@uniontrib.com

Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

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

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