The U.S. Department of Agriculture has introduced a new set of policies that farmers should implement to stop bird flu from spreading. The most disturbing one, which has incensed animal right groups, involves suffocating the infected birds in order to destroy the virus immediately.
The strategies included in the “Fall Preparedness and Response” plan have been proposed in an effort to reduce damage associated with H5N2 infections. In the first half of 2015, the bird flu was deemed by the USDA “the largest animal health event in our history”, because of its extensiveness.
From December through June, the outbreak affected 15 states, killing around 48 million birds (mostly chickens and turkeys). It is expected that there will be a new epidemic now, since wild ducks, which are potential carriers of the virus, will be migrating.
Basically, the government has introduced a 24-hour “stamping-out policy” which calls for farmers to euthanize infected poultry within this time-frame. If no other method is identified by producers and officials, then the birds have to be suffocated.
The controversial method involves stopping ventilation systems, while the heat is turned up, and sealing the barns. This causes the birds to suffocate and die as a result of heat stress, in approximately 30-40 minutes.
Animal protection organizations have condemned this type of euthanasia, claiming it is not exactly “mercy killing”, but instead a barbaric method of leaving animals to die a slow, painful death.
“Shutting down ventilation systems in these operations essentially bakes the birds to death over a period of time which can last hours and involves intense suffering”, declared Chief Veterinary Officer Michael Blackwell.
As a result, the government was urged to conduct further research, in order to discover more humane methods of eradicating the virus.
For example, former USDA policies required farmers to adopt the quickest measures, but without causing unnecessary agony for the birds. Usually, the infected poultry were grouped together and placed in rooms filled with carbon dioxide gas, or with oxygen-depleting, water-based foam.
However, government officials have decreed that these strategies aren’t as effective and timely as they should be. This was exemplified this spring, when teams from Iowa and Minnesota, which had been given the task to euthanize infected birds, couldn’t keep up with the work load.
Millions of birds had contracted the virus, and it was impossible to implement the measures for all of them. As a result, a significant number of poultry suffered and perished because of the infection, instead of having their death hastened.
Due to these observations, federal authorities concluded that the H5N2 virus calls for much swifter response, especially given its high level of contagiousness among infected poultry.
The Department of Agriculture has admitted that suffocation isn’t a matter to be treated lightly, but it may be the best solution in some cases, in order to prevent the infection of even more flocks with bird flu.
Aside from this much debated issue, the policies also detail steps to be taken by farmers for assessing loss associated with the virus. In addition, the guidelines recommend strategies for early detection of the flu and offer information regarding indemnity funds provided by the government.
Last but not least, prevention methods are suggested, such as wild bird surveillance, and aggressive disinfecting and cleaning practices.
Image Source: Flickr