The Use of Chickens in Agricultural Research: An Eye-Opening Look at Unspeakable Cruelty

By Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns

On May 21, 2022, I presented the topic of the use of chickens in agricultural research as part of the Third annual Chicken Webinar organized by in honor of International Respect for Chickens Day/month of May. To view the Webinar, go to and click on UPC Presentations. Here is the gist of my introduction:

Many people are unaware that behind the business of animal agriculture, an equally brutal business is conducted in the United States, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Collectively, this business is conducted by private industry, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, and tax-supported land-grant universities with animal science departments, such as the University of California, University of Maryland, and North Carolina State University, among others. Pharmaceutical companies like Merck and Pfizer have their own farm animal research divisions. Poultry “science” for the advancement of the poultry and egg industries is big business in the U.S. and around the world.

Because farmed animal “science” has no real legal prohibitions on what may be inflicted on the animals, the behavior of experimenters toward their victims is virtually unchecked in this industry subculture, which comprises the types of people who are comfortable with, who even enjoy, harming chickens and other creatures in the legitimizing guise of “science.” This year, an experiment conducted on hens at North Carolina State University, in 2016, was exposed by the animal advocacy organization, Animal Outlook.

NC State Univesity VSD Experiment
Screenshot: The Intercept / North Carolina State University footage that Animal Outlook obtained via FOIA [Freedom of Information Act Request].
Animal Outlook explained in April, 2022:

Animal Outlook recently obtained public records from experiments conducted by North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers in 2016. These researchers sought and received funding from the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, an industry trade group, to study the effects of ventilation shutdown (VSD) on chickens.

The footage we obtained showed birds being subjected to VSD in various forms. The birds’ suffering was captured in graphic detail with each video showing a single hen enclosed in a small box with a clear front panel for observation. Animal Outlook attorney Will Lowrey, who obtained and watched the 10 hours of footage, told The Intercept who published an article on these experiments on April 14, 2022, that “the suffering is extremely profound.”

Watch the footage here: or here:

This footage exemplifies the link between the torture of chickens, turkeys and other birds/animals on industrial farms worldwide – in this case relating to the recurring avian influenza epidemics perpetrated by the poultry industry plus the Covid-19 killings of millions of factory-farmed birds in “depopulation” killings – and the systematic torture of chickens, turkeys, ducks, quails, and other farmed birds in university experiments funded by the poultry industry and by tax-supported government programs.

What is Ventilation Shutdown+? It cooks living creatures to death.

The following excerpt is from a June 3, 2022 Sentient Media article featuring a detailed report by the Animal Welfare Institute that explains how Ventilation Shutdown+ is used to exterminate millions of factory-farmed birds in taxpayer-supported “depopulation” killings to benefit the poultry and egg industries. The + (VSD-Plus) refers to the addition of extreme heat and carbon dioxide to the withdrawal of oxygen from the facility in which the birds (also pigs) are held.

VSD+ requires farmers to cut off airflow and heat their barns to 104 degrees Fahrenheit until the animals die from heatstroke. The method is only intended to be used if no other method can successfully kill the entire flock in 48 hours. But USDA records show that eight of the 12 largest culls that used VSD+ between February and March [in 2022] took more than 48 hours to complete. The two largest culls took 7 and 16 days, respectively. While USDA endorses the use of VSD+ in some scenarios, the killing method is opposed by a growing contingent of veterinary professionals, who say it causes extreme suffering and should be avoided at all costs. . . .

Ventilation Shutdown+ has become the main method of exterminating large populations of factory-farmed birds and pigs in the name of disease control in the U.S. Other methods include blanketing the birds with firefighting foam, suffocating them to death with carbon dioxide poisoning, and in some instances electrocuting them and in some instances applying these methods in combination.

Should Animal Advocates Collaborate with Corporate Animal Abusers to Help Animals?

Seeking a “more humane” way to exterminate millions of birds to control diseases, an animal advocate asked: “Which university might we engage to look at humane depopulation methods for disaster response?”

Answer: There is no humane way to exterminate thousands of animals – chickens, turkeys, pigs, etc. – in a single facility, which is usually one building in a complex comprising several buildings onsite, all of which will be depopulated at the same time. A typical chicken “growout” building contains an average of 50,000 chickens under 6-weeks old. Let us please not talk about which method is “more” humane than some other horrific method. Logically and ethically it is a question, at best, of which method is possibly the least inhumane, based, for example, on the length of time it takes the majority of animals exposed to the procedure to die.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) produces slow, painful suffocation in birds and mammals. Often birds who appear to be dead wake up and are then beaten to death by the workers with baseball bats, metal pipes, or whatever is handy.

Fire-fighting foam blankets and suffocates birds with toxic chemicals, which they ingest as they die enveloped in the foam.

Cervical dislocation – neck-breaking – is routinely practiced by the contract “growers” (the workers who raise birds for Perdue, Tyson, Foster Farms, Costco, Pilgrim’s Pride, etc.) inside the buildings, where, every day, birds are dying or are not growing fast enough or laying enough eggs, so the workers break their necks, slam them against the wall or the floor, and throw them in the trash cans and shopping carts scattered around inside the building where the birds are living.

Electrocution is unequivocal torture. It is not possible to kill even one human being “humanely” in the electric chair, which is why the electric chair as a form of capital punishment has been banned almost everywhere.

A mixture of gases comprising precise percentages of argon, nitrogen, oxygen, and CO2 has been proposed by some animal scientists as a replacement for pre-slaughter paralytic electric shock-water immersion in the slaughter plants. This could be the least intolerable method of-killing. However, it requires a level of expertise that could never be duplicated in a commercial setting. The people brought to the complexes to destroy huge populations of captive animals are laborers with nothing but muscle, no scientific training or understanding whatsoever of mixing gases or of applying pre-mixed gases. In addition to the specialized training required to use a mixture of gases to kill animals, there is the financial cost, which industry will never consider. What might work in a laboratory would not work in a commercial environment.

Finally, the view of UPC is that it is inappropriate for animal advocates to engage animal science departments and laboratories to experimentally torture and kill chickens and other animals to find a “more humane” method of exterminating them on the farm. Not only have these types of experiments been done repeatedly for years and years already; but as Harriet Schleifer writes in “Images of Death and Life: Food Animal Production and the Vegetarian Option”: “Killing, unless it is done as a merciful act, must involve withholding of sympathy for the victim. Done repeatedly, it results in a hardening of the emotions. . . . To begin with, sincere concern for living individuals leads [us] to become, ironically, experts on the techniques of mass death-dealing.” It suggests “that the taking of life is not a problem, only the way it is done.”

United Poultry Concerns is an active coalition member of, a nonprofit organization whose “goal is to create an organized network of professionals who are able to formally challenge unethical institutionalized systems and amplify the voices of those who have been marginalized.” Our current engagement with Our Honor relates to Our Honor’s campaign to persuade the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to formally oppose the use of Ventilation Shutdown (“depopulating” animals by baking them to death as was done by the NCSU experimenters) as a method of mass-murdering chickens, turkeys, ducks, and other farmed animals to control avian influenza and other transmittable diseases among these highly stressed, fragile and disease-susceptible birds and pigs on factory farms.

Courtesy of Animal Outlook
NC State Univesity VSD Experiment
This hen is being deliberately baked to death with other hens in a Ventilation Shutdown experiment by researchers at North Carolina State University funded by the U.S. poultry industry.

How much taxpayer money has the USDA given to the U.S. poultry & egg industries as of June 2022 to brutally exterminate millions of factory-farmed birds?

USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) since February 2022 “has been in a costly battle with avian flu. With an emergency $793 million transfer from the Commodity Credit Corporation, APHIS has eradicated more than 40 million birds from 372 flocks in 38 states.” – Food Safety News, June 21, 2022

“Safeguarding U.S. poultry and egg producers from the effects avian influenza could have on agriculture and trade is a critical aspect of this response, and this funding will allow APHIS personnel to continue to deploy and support the emergency wherever they are needed,” said USDA Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt. –, May 31, 2022

What Can I Do?

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is holding its annual convention in Philadelphia July 29-August 2, 2022. Though the AVMA cannot force U.S. agribusinesses to use or not use a particular “depopulation” method, the AVMA can adopt a policy statement that recommends against a particular method of killing. Such a policy can influence industry from a public relations standpoint and provide an institutional basis for public protest. As things stand now, chickens, turkeys, pigs and other farmed animals are legally and morally abandoned to the iniquities of an industry, including its farmed animal “science” affiliates, that is completely devoid of conscience and ethics.

Notably, the NCSU scientists who conducted the Ventilation Shutdown experiments drank ice water and fanned themselves as they watched the hens they had wired up, each in her solitary death box, die piteously, and they shut out the hens’ cries from being heard.


Contact Us Web Form:

AVMA Headquarters
1931 North Meacham Road, Suite 100
Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360
Phone: 800-248-2862
Fax: 847-925-1329


March 29, 2022

Dr. Janet Donlin
Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer
American Veterinary Medical Association

Dr. Cia Johnson
Panel on Depopulation & Director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division
American Veterinary Medical Association

Dear Dr. Donlin and Dr. Johnson:

On behalf of United Poultry Concerns, I am writing to urge you to adopt a Not Recommended standard of opposition to the inhumane mass-killing of chickens, turkeys, ducks, pigs and other farmed animals by means of ventilation shutdown, carbon dioxide poisoning, and firefighting foam.

We understand that these inhumane methods of destroying large numbers of farmed animals, all at the same time and in the same location, are commonly used, particularly to kill large numbers of birds in cases of collapsed buildings caused by weather conditions, and disease outbreaks of various kinds including the corona virus, avian influenza, and other contagious diseases affecting captive flocks and sometimes also human handlers.

We believe that the AVMA has a moral responsibility toward these trapped and helpless animals and that this responsibility should transcend the AVMA’s approval or “acceptance” of cruel and torturous methods of killing in order to accommodate corporations and farmers.

Please advise what position the AVMA will take on the use of ventilation shutdown, carbon dioxide poisoning, and firefighting foam. We urge the AVMA to adopt a Not Recommended standard, even though the birds, pigs, and other farmed animals have a horrible, hopeless life and death regardless. That being so, the American Veterinary Medical Association still has a moral obligation to oppose these terrible methods of killing sentient individuals.

Thank you very much for your attention. We look forward to your response.


Karen Davis, PhD, President
United Poultry Concerns
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405
Phone: 757-678-7875

Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) describes what their investigation of a typical U.S. caged-hen operation revealed about the Ventilation Shutdown method of “depopulating” millions of birds:

Today [April 13], we’ve released a new investigation into Rembrandt Enterprises, a factory egg farm in Iowa where 5 million birds were killed with VSD following an outbreak of avian flu. DxE investigators found birds who had survived the VSD process being literally roasted alive still in their cages, running loose in the facility’s industrial sheds, even buried alive.

After Hens have been brutally murdered, they are shipped off to be turned into “compost.”

Rembrandt Vsd Depopulation of Caged Hens Iowa Compost
Rembrandt Vsd Depopulation of Caged Hens Iowa Survivors