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Deadly Bird Flu Returns to U.S. Turkey Industry, as Thanksgiving Slaughter Looms for 46M Birds

Deadly Bird Flu Returns to U.S. Turkey Industry, as Thanksgiving Slaughter Looms for 46M Birds

As we near Thanksgiving, a holiday for which approximately 46 million turkeys will be slaughtered, these innocent birds face another deadly threat in the form of avian flu’s return to the U.S. turkey industry.

In 2020, outbreaks of this highly pathogenic disease, most commonly known as bird flu, slammed the poultry industry, fueled by the intensive conditions that dominate U.S. farming of chickens and turkeys. These outbreaks led to the culling (the killing of animals before they would have been slaughtered for human consumption) of millions of farmed birds with controversial methods like ventilation shutdown — essentially using heatstroke to kill animals en masse, a practice criticized by animal advocates and some concerned veterinarians. While birds suffered and consumers faced rising prices, the turkey industry’s profits rose by 21 percent in 2022 over the previous year despite a drop in production.

The USDA has now reported the first cases of avian flu on U.S. turkey farms since April, impacting 47,300 turkeys on a South Dakota farm and 141,800 turkeys in just one Utah operation. This week, news broke of 140,000 more affected in Minnesota. These outbreaks demonstrate the massive scale of factory farms — and push the number of birds culled due to influenza in recent years to the edge of 60 million.

What’s worse is that experts believe that the time of year and the migration of wild birds will mean that this threat will only grow in the coming months, as South Dakota’s State Veterinarian, Beth Thompson, told ABC News.

An Agonizing Death

Bird flu is not only extremely contagious among birds but also nearly 100 percent fatal, a grim reality that means that farms cull their entire flocks when an outbreak occurs.

All animals want to live, a simple truth that calls into question the slaughter of any animal as humane. When killing thousands of animals simultaneously, the methods used become even more cruel.

One such method is ventilation shutdown plus (VSD+), in which all ventilation to a shed is shut down to kill many animals at once via heatstroke. Steam, heat, or gas is pumped into the shed to hasten the process, but some animals have been found to suffer for long periods, and others may survive the initial cull.

In a study published in December 2022 amid the rising use of heatstroke to cull pigs and birds, researchers wrote, “Non-lethal heat stress is widely acknowledged to be detrimental to animal welfare…and temperature-humidity conditions that are high enough to cause death also are accepted as causing severe suffering.”

Sadly, the American Veterinary Medical Association has not condemned this practice it considers to be acceptable in “constrained circumstances,” demonstrating how differently our society — even those whose work is dedicated to caring for animals — views the animals we think of as food and those we think of as companions. Veterinarians opposed to VSD+ have likened the practice to “leaving a dog in a hot car” with all windows shut and the heat turned on “full blast.”



Photo Credit: istock-peopleImages

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Categories: South Dakota, Livestock, Poultry

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