As part of measures to manage what is quickly becoming the United States' worst bird flu outbreak, an Iowa egg factory has roasted 5.3 million hens alive. The slaughter is the largest culling at any factory farm in the country so far.
Workers at Rembrandt Enterprises, a company owned by billionaire Glen Taylor, killed the animals using a system called ventilation shutdown plus (VSD+) in which air is closed off to the barns and heat pumped in until the temperature rises above 104F (40C), as reported by Tom Cullen of the Iowa newspaper the Storm Lake Times.
“They cooked those birds alive,” said one of the Rembrandt workers involved in the culling.
The animal rights group, Animal Outlook, recently revealed experiments by North Carolina State University on the effects of VSD+ on chickens. Records uncovered that VSD+ causes “extreme suffering” to the hens as they “writhe, gasp, pant, stagger and even throw themselves against the walls of their confinement in a desperate attempt to escape”.
“Eventually the birds collapse and, finally, die from heat and suffocation,” the group said.
Animal Outlook obtained footage from the experiment via a Freedom of Information Act request. You can follow link at bottom of the page to see video... BE WARNED GRAPHIC
The culling has occurred at farms across Iowa and 33 other states from Minnesota to Colorado, with more than 37 million birds killed so far in an attempt to contain the pandemic. The majority of deaths have happened in Iowa, the biggest egg producer in the U.S.
Other USDA-approved methods for mass culling include the suffocation of flocks with water-based foam and the filling of barns with carbon dioxide gas, both of which are considered inhumane.
On 17 March, Rembrandt notified its supervisors that avian flu had been detected on the site.
“They sent out email at 10.30pm letting us know they had a confirmed case,” a former Rembrandt worker told The Guardian. “Once they’re dead, we had to take them out by hand one by one, put them in a wheelbarrow. That’s really intense manual labor. They are not very big cages. Twelve chickens are crammed in there. Awful conditions,” he said.
After killing the birds and disposing of their bodies in huge pits nearby, around 250 workers - nearly all of the staff employed by the plant - were then fired.
“After it was over, we were told to attend a meeting,” added the worker. “We walked in. There was a big stack of yellow envelopes. That’s like showing a knife to a chicken. You know what’s going to happen next. We worked ourselves out of a job. I saw people who had years and years of experience just being let go. It was totally unexpected.”
“No one could protest because then they’d be fired and lose their redundancy pay. Then they’re thrown out of work and no one speaks for them,” said Oscar Garcia, a former supervisor at the plant.
Remembernt’s quick reaction to the avian flu outbreak contrasted sharply with its lax COVID-19 regulations during the height of the pandemic when infections spread across Iowa, commented Garcia. He told The Guardian that the company seemed to care more about avian flu outbreaks than COVID-19.
“They actually liked the fact that we didn’t require our employees to get vaccinated, because they were hoping we would get employees from the surrounding areas that were requiring their employees to get vaccinated. They’re using it almost as a recruitment tool,” he said.
“It’s a company that makes millions of dollars. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it doesn’t care about people,” said Garcia.
Food system change is needed now more than ever before. Rather than continuing to rely on the mass slaughter and consumption of animals, causing animal - and human - suffering and risking new infectious diseases, we have the opportunity to transform the current system into something safer, healthier, and more compassionate.
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