The Wood-Chipper Episode and Avian Flu Epidemics: What’s The Connection?

“United Poultry Concerns is demanding my expulsion from the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee position. Their own Web site demonstrates how they are advancing their agenda by attempting to connect this atrocity to AVMA's position on induced molting. I am nothing more than a poster child under attack.”
“Cutler speaks out on his own behalf,” DVM Newsmagazine, January 2004
Photo By: AP
In Indonesia, chickens are burned alive to destroy avian influenza
In Indonesia, chickens are burned alive to destroy avian influenza

The January issues of Veterinary Practice News and DVM Newsmagazine stress the leadership of United Poultry Concerns in demanding the removal of Dr. Gregg Cutler from the animal welfare committee of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Cutler authorized the Ward egg ranch, in California, to throw tens of thousands of unwanted live hens into wood-chipping machinery last February.

Cutler did not act alone but was part of a team of veterinarians, poultry producers, and government officials that recommended the procedure in a written guideline for dealing with avian influenza outbreaks. It included the disposal of live "spent hens" in wood chippers - "A large chipper can be rented and set up to discharge directly into a loader bucket or other container. Death is instant and humane."

UPC targeted Cutler because, in addition to authorizing the wood-chipper killings, he represents poultry on the AVMA's animal welfare committee, where he supports inhumane practices such as forced molting. He epitomizes what is wrong with the AVMA, which, instead of leading the effort to improve the lives of chickens and other farmed animals, blocks every effort to improve their lives, while calling itself, ironically, "the leading voice for humane and proper care of animals."

In January 2004, the AVMA claimed to be gathering facts for a judicial hearing to decide if Cutler "breached ethical standards and the Veterinarian's Oath" in authorizing the wood-chippers. In addition, the California Veterinary Medical Board is investigating Cutler's role, which could cost him his license to practice veterinary medicine in California.

The Bigger Picture

If instead of wood chippers, Cutler had merely advised the Ward egg ranch to use any of the standard AVMA-approved methods of killing the birds, like breaking and stretching their necks and/or asphyxiating them with carbon dioxide - inhumane methods despite AVMA approval - the episode would not have sparked a San Diego County Department of Animal Services cruelty investigation including a complaint to the California Veterinary Medical Board. Yet even though the AVMA has not formally approved the use of wood-chippers as a form of euthanasia ("merciful death"), wood chippers and other types of grinding machines, called macerators, are being used to kill birds.

Ward egg ranch manager Ken Iryie told the San Diego County Department of Animal Services that "chipping" chickens is a common practice. It isn't just a "disease-control emergency" procedure, but a way to dispose of the 22 million to 25 million spent hens in the US each year not purchased by the government for its National School Lunch Program and other meal programs. In addition to being packed in containers, bulldozed, suffocated to death in dumpsters, and gassed with CO2, the March 2004 issue of Animal People says that it is "increasingly common for spent hens to be killed by live maceration, long the standard means of killing surplus chicks. The remains are fed to pigs, cattle, or other chickens."

"A macerator is just a fancy name for something that crushes and kills baby chickens. It is ugly and inhumane," veterinarian Peggy Larson told Animal People. And while the AVMA's 2000 Report on Euthanasia doesn't say so, Animal People reports that live maceration is among the "generally approved and recommended methods of killing both spent hens and surplus chicks, according to guidelines posted by the South Dakota State University Department of Animal and Range Sciences." Likewise, the University of California, Davis Center for Animal Welfare approves grinders "specifically designed for disposal of poultry" noting that they "must not be overloaded, as birds may be incompletely macerated under these conditions."

Mass-Extermination of Birds

In addition to the global slaughter of over 40 billion chickens exploited for food each year, tens of millions of birds are exterminated to dispose of those who are unwanted (like male chicks born to the egg industry) and no longer wanted (like "spent" hens in the egg industry), and to control the diseases that spread in captive flocks. For example, between 1971 and 1973, California killed 12 million chickens to stop the spread of Newcastle disease, a type of avian influenza. In 1997, Hong Kong killed 1.4 million chickens to control a strain of avian influenza that infected and killed humans and birds (repeated unsuccessfully in 2001 and 2002). Between 1997 and 2000 Italy killed 13 million birds in an attempt to control avian influenza; and in 2002, Virginia killed 4.7 million turkeys and chickens to halt a mild form of the virus. These exterminations are paid for by taxpayers. For example, the extermination of over 3 million birds to block the Exotic Newcastle disease epidemic that threatened California's poultry and egg industry last year cost US taxpayers more than $160 million including indemnities to cockfighters. The 2002 avian flu epidemic in Virginia cost taxpayers $135 million to $150 million.

Such crises are now taking place around the world, from Delaware to Indonesia. To protect the global animal food industry and save people from the avian influenza epidemics brought on by humans (the 1918 bird-human flu pandemic killed 20 million people), millions of chickens, turkeys, ducks, pigs, and other animals are being buried alive, gassed, drowned, beaten to death, and burned to death. By mid-February Delaware had killed 89,000 chickens at just two farms; in Southeast Asia, to contain a virulent strain of the H5N1 avian influenza that can infect and kill humans, 80 million chickens had been exterminated, according to The Denver Post (Feb. 15, 2004).

While the atrocities committed in other countries have been shown on American television, the cameras aren't showing the massacres being conducted here at home. Here, to give you an idea, is an eyewitness account of one such episode that took place in Maryland, in 1993, during an avian influenza outbreak that, according to The Washington Post (Feb. 12, 2004), resulted in "the destruction of tens of thousands of birds, according to state officials."

Eyewitness Report

"On November 26 and 27, 1993, there was a holocaust on a game farm operated by John L. Tuttle near Centreville, Maryland. Over 30,000 captive game birds [pheasants, chukars, and quails raised and sold for hunting in Maryland and surrounding states] were gassed, burned alive, clubbed, swung by the neck or shot to death by a joint United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-APHIS) Maryland Department of Agriculture task force. This operation was supervised by Drs. Hortentia Harris and David Henzler of USDA-APHIS [Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service] and Drs. Archibald Park and Henry Virts of the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

"Approximately half of the game birds (17,000) were housed in buildings. The remaining birds were housed in outside flight pens. On Friday, November 26, large tank trucks brought in carbon dioxide gas (CO2) which was pumped into the buildings which housed a variety of game bird species some of which were suspected of harboring a pathogenic avian influenza virus. The plan was to asphyxiate the birds with the CO2 gas, then carry them to a trench in a front end loader where they would be sprayed with an accelerant and burned.

"Unfortunately, we learned that CO2 is not lethal. As soon as the unconscious birds were exposed to fresh air they began to revive. Many of these birds were burned alive. A fruitless attempt was made to asphyxiate the remaining birds with exhaust gasses from an automobile. It did not work. Many more birds were burned alive that day.

"The remaining 17,000 birds, which were housed in outdoor flight pens, were dispatched in a similar cruel and inhumane manner. Many birds were clubbed until unconscious and then burned alive. Finally, over 500 rounds of shotgun shells were used to wound, maim and kill the remaining game birds that could not be captured. Many of these birds were burned alive. I always thought veterinarians were supposed to relieve animals' pain and suffering, not inflict it."
– Letter from a "remorseful participant" to the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, March 24, 1996.

What Can I Do?
  • Make your voice – and the voices of the birds – heard: Write letters to the editor, get videos on public access, and leaflet. Urge your local media to devote quality time to the many benefits of an animal friendly, vegetarian diet.
  • Contact the AVMA and voice your concerns about the AVMA to the media. Veterinarian Holly Cheever says that "the AVMA is increasingly aware of and concerned by their potentially increasing negative public image in the press, and they are also aware that the pressure to change no longer comes from animal activists alone, but is now coming from their own well-regarded members."

    Dr. Bruce Little
    Executive Vice President
    1931 North Meacham Rd, Suite 100
    Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360
    Phone: 847-925-8070. Fax: 847-925-1329