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Vilsack defends ‘ventilation shutdown’ for depopulation

egg layersAnimal rights activists are criticizing the USDA for including “ventilation shutdown” as one of the alternatives for euthanizing poultry in barns infected with the avian flu virus.

Ventilation shutdown involves turning up the heat in a poultry barn and shutting off ventilation systems. USDA officials have said, once that happens, birds will die from heat stress within 30 to 40 minutes. The Humane Society of the United States disagrees, however, saying that ventilation shutdown causes “intense suffering” that could last for hours.

In an interview with Brownfield, U.S. ag secretary Tom Vilsack defended the use of ventilation shutdown in certain situations.

“The question is, if you have a situation where the virus has been detected in a place where there are multiple facilities located nearby, is it more humane to use a quick depopulation method which reduces the risk of the virus spreading—thereby saving multiple flocks from being depopulated—or is it more appropriate to take a longer period of time, risking the spread of the virus and having it extend to all flocks,” Vilsack said.

The government’s preferred choices for euthanizing infected poultry are suffocating them with a deadly foam or filling barns with carbon dioxide. But, depending on the situation, those methods may take longer to implement.

“Our view about this is that, under normal circumstances, if there’s not a risk to facilities in a nearby location, there may be other methods that could be used,” Vilsack said. “But if you are in a situation where you’ve got to move quickly in order to avoid the spread, then you’re going to have use this method.

“We think, on balance—for the industry as a whole and for the birds involved—saving multiple flocks is an appropriate decision to make.”

Under its new plan for combatting avian influenza, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service wants to depopulate infected facilities within 24 hours in order to prevent spread of the disease.

AUDIO: Tom Vilsack

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