| KATHRYN GILLICK|
The chicken chipping case isn't over.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced this week that the final
decision about whether to press charges against egg ranchers who
put thousands of live chickens into a wood chipper in February would
not be made until she had more information.
The announcement came seven days after the district attorney's
office said it would not press charges against Bill Wilgenburg,
owner of Ward Egg Ranch in Valley Center. That decision was based,
in part, on the belief that using a chipper to kill chickens is
"a standard industry practice," said Gail Stewart, a district
However, that method is not approved by the American Veterinary
Medical Association, spokeswoman Gail Golab said Thursday. The American
Veterinary Medical Association represents 68,000 veterinarians.
Golab said a similar machine is used to kill chicks, but no machine
is approved for adult birds.
Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Silva, the county's agriculture
prosecutor, was in charge of the case. She did not return phone
After Silva decided not to press charges against Wilgenburg, there
was an outcry from animal rights activists around the country.
The Humane Society of the United States and the United Poultry
Concerns Inc. were among the organizations that wrote letters urging
Dumanis to reconsider the case.
Poultry Concerns' president, Karen Davis, said Thursday that she
was pleased that the DA has asked for more interviews.
"I'm hoping that this case will be reopened," she said.
In a February interview, Wilgenburg admitted to putting about 15,000
chickens, thousands still alive, into the chipper. He said the decision
to mulch the chickens was made after consulting with a veterinarian.
Wilgenburg said he had no choice but to kill the chickens because
of rules imposed by the federal-state Task Force on Newcastle Disease.
Wilgenburg said he was not permitted to ship the chickens, which
he said were not diseased, to his other farm in Potrero, and he
was forbidden to send them to a Central Valley slaughterhouse. Task
force officials conceded that Wilgenburg had been given no alternative
but to kill his chickens.
Wilgenburg said he stopped putting live chickens in the mulcher
after a county animal services representative contacted a manager
at his Potrero farm, where chickens were also being chipped.
"They told us that we had to wring their necks or kill them
with (carbon dioxide)," he said. So, he said, they started
breaking the chickens' necks first.
Exotic Newcastle disease, which has a mortality rate of between
90 percent and 100 percent in poultry, has hit seven commercial
farms in San Diego County since December and 22 commercial farms
statewide since October. It is carried in the mucus or feces of
infected birds and does not affect humans.
The disease spreads so quickly, task force officials said, that
they have to kill every bird at an infected site, even if only a
few test positive for the disease. More than 2 million birds have
been killed in California because of the outbreak.
The San Diego County farms affected are Ramona Egg Ranch; Armstrong
Egg ranches on Cole Grade, Lilac and Mac Tan roads in Valley Center;
Foster Enterprises on Cole Grade Road in Valley Center; Fluegge
Egg Ranch on Twain Way in Valley Center; and the Ward Egg Ranch
on Fruitvale Road.
Wilgenberg said the chickens that tested positive at the Ward Egg
Ranch did not belong to him. He sold the farm shortly before killing
all of his chickens. Wilgenburg said that birds that tested positive
belonged to the farm's new owner.
United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes
the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl: http://www.UPC-online.org
Poultry Concerns, Inc.|
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150