Millions of US farm animals to be culled by suffocation, drowning and shooting
Over the last few months, empty grocery store shelves have become a common occurrence. Prices have been going up on regular grocery items, and lines outside food banks have been getting longer and longer.
Despite all of this, farmers have nowhere to sell their products, and across the country milk is being dumped, eggs are being smashed, and ripe fruits and vegetables are being plowed back into the soil.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive disruptions in global and national food supply chains. The poultry and pork industry has been hit particularly hard, and many farmers are now facing the devastating reality that they can no longer keep their animals.
Culling Chickens and Pigs
Since the pandemic began, an estimated ten million chickens have already been culled. Experts are predicting that by September, ten million pigs will also have been put to their deaths .
The main reason for this is because slaughterhouses and meat processing plants around the country have been shut down due to coronavirus outbreaks. Nearly half of the counties in the United States with the highest per capita infection rates have originated in meat factories where employees work in very close quarters, which has led to virus spikes in many small towns. Because of this, many of these plants have been forced to close, leaving farmers with nowhere to sell their animals . They cannot be kept, however, because younger hogs coming up through the supply chain will have nowhere to be kept .
The animals cannot be slaughtered for meat, and so must be killed at home.
Many experts are speaking out, saying that the methods for culling these animals are inhumane. The most common way to cull chickens is to cover them with a water-based foam that is similar to fire-fighting foam. In the pork industry, common techniques that are used are gassing, shooting, anesthetic overdose, or blunt-force trauma .
A 2019 European Food Safety Authority journal report stated that it didn’t find water-based or firefighting foam as acceptable stating that “death due to drowning in fluids or suffocation by occlusion of the airways” is not viewed as “a humane method for killing animals, including poultry”.
Thinning Herds and Slowing Growth
Adam Speck, an agribusiness analyst with IHS Markit, says that many farmers are now attempting to “thin out” herds and slow their growth in order to reduce their supply until slaughterhouses are open again.
“They are sending breeding sows to slaughter, aborting pregnant sows on a small scale and [keeping market-bound pigs] on maintenance style rations with less protein. Coming into the summer months the pigs will also gain weight more slowly as the weather heats up.” 
Leah Garcés, president of US welfare organization Mercy for Animals, describes these methods as inhumane and says they pose welfare risks for the animals. An example of a method used to slow down the growth of animals is to turn up the heat inside the warehouses because pigs don’t eat as much when they’re too hot. Combined with feed restrictions, this keeps pigs from gaining weight too quickly.
“[Pigs are] hungry and hot, increasing their overall discomfort, which is already high in a factory farm setting,” she says .
According to Jim Monroe, a spokesperson for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the decision to euthanize is to prevent animal suffering, however, critics argue that the methods used to kill animals also cause prolonged suffering .
The Estimations Could be High
Speck says that producers are very reluctant to cull their herds- a practice called “depopulating”. He noted that slaughterhouses will likely return to 85% capacity by the end of May, which would lessen the need for producers to cull their animals. This would mean that the NPPC’s prediction of ten million pigs by September could be significantly reduced .
How Can You Help?
For now, the best thing that we can do is support our local farmers as much as possible. Find out where you can purchase straight from a farmer near you, and give them a call to ask how you can buy their products.
This pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in our supply chain, and it is time we move to a more self-sustainable model so that in the future so should something like this happen again, we can ensure that everyone can get the food they need, and animals don’t need to be harmed.
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