DA Won't Prosecute Company for Throwing Hens into Wood Chipping Machinery

UPC Files Freedom of Information Act, California Public Records Act Requests

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 Care (www.afac.ab.ca).

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.