Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A More Effective Method For The Mass-Culling Of Infected Birds?

More than 23 million poultry birds have, reportedly, been culled across the US through anti-bird flu extermination programs since the late early 1980s. The options available used to be gassing the birds, or electrocuting them, breaking their necks by hand, or simply chopping them up.

There has been a lot of debate, particularly in countries where bird flu is now an epidemic, or quickly heading that way (Indonesia being the prime example), about which method of mass culling is the most effective and least cruel.

Since November last year, bird flu fighters in the United States have had a new weapon of mass extermination :

These soapy air bubbles, adapted from what firefighters use to smother blazes, can smother birds within several minutes, with minimal contact between workers and infection.

The problem is that some experts consider it less humane than gassing. They say carbon dioxide at least knocks birds unconscious before it poisons them.

The US Department of Agriculture approved foam for outbreaks in November. It got its first real-life test in April in West Virginia, when 26,000 turkeys were destroyed to end a flu outbreak in Pendleton County

Not everyone agrees the foam method is more effective, or less cruel to the poultry being 'depopulated' :
Foam simply fills their windpipes and strangles them.

“You might as well drop them in a bucket of water,” fumes Dr. Mohan Raj, a British veterinarian at the University of Bristol who specializes in animal welfare during disease control.
To animal-rights campaigner Karen Davis, who founded United Poultry Concerns, in Machipongo, Va., foam is like “burying them alive.”

However, to her, carbon dioxide is hardly better. Before knocking out birds, it irritates chemical receptors in the lungs and leaves the animals short of breath.

“There is no really satisfactory, humane method to depopulate a full houseful of birds,” says animal ethicist Bernard Rollin, at Colorado State University.

Whatever the shortcomings of current techniques, federal and industry officials insist they’re ready for a big outbreak. But they acknowledge they’d probably use foam and gas as needed — and some uglier methods too.

In the worst case, with people dying, the industry might be forced simply to close barns and let birds die of thirst or disease.

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