Responding to angry activists and other
irate citizens, San Diego County (CA) District Attorney Bonnie
Dumanis announced in April she would reconsider the wood-chipping
case after announcing she would not prosecute Ward Egg Ranch owners
Arie and Bill Wilgenburg for throwing 30,000 hens into wood-chipping
machinery in February. Dumanis upheld her original decision (San
Diego Union Tribune, 5/10/03), even though California's animal
cruelty law prohibits subjecting any animal to needless suffering
or unnecessary cruelty.
One issue concerns the role of Dr. Gregg Cutler,
a private veterinarian affiliated with the National Veterinary
Accreditation Program administered by the US Department of Agriculture's
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and a member of the
Animal Welfare Committee of the American Veterinary Medical Association
(AVMA). Though Cutler denies recommending grinding up live hens,
claiming he meant dead hens, UPC has information suggesting that
Cutler told the owners to throw the live hens into a wood chipper
that was especially cruel because it had a ram at the bottom of
the bin that pushed the birds against a grate to shred them.
In letters to UPC (3/27/03; 5/8/03), the AVMA said
it "has not endorsed the use of wood chippers as an acceptable
means of euthanasia for poultry" although Cutler "is
aware that the method is used by some."
Perhaps by more than some. The Canadian egg and fur farm industries
(dead hens are fed to captive fur-bearing animals in North America)
are funding researchers at Nova Scotia Agriculture College "to
examine the macerator option" for disposing of unwanted hens.
The hens are vacuumed down a tube to a grinder where they are
killed by blades, according to the June 2003 issue of Farm
Animal Welfare Insights published by Alberta Farm Animal
In May, United Poultry Concerns filed a Freedom
of Information Act request with the US Department of Agriculture
for records of the USDA's involvement in the wood-chipping episode,
and a California Public Records Act request to the San Diego County
District Attorney for the prosecutor's records. The latter request
was denied in July. UPC is pursuing the matter, and we will update
our members accordingly.