Farmed Animal Watch
A Project of Animal Place

May 19, 2003                                                     (To Search This Page Press Ctrl F)
Number #16 Volume 2


1.  Newcastle Disease Hits Texas
2.  Compensating California Cockfighters
3.  New Federal Cockfighting Law in Effect
4.  D.A. Reaffirms Decision Not to Prosecute Egg Operation Owners
5.  Newcastle Grief & Stress Counseling
6.  Industry Seeks Tariffs for British Poultry Welfare Protection
7.  Chicken Growth and Welfare
8.  The Morality of Other Species

Mexico, Russia, Japan, Cuba and countries in the European Union have embargoed imports of poultry from Texas after cockfighting spread exotic Newcastle disease to the state. Though the disease has only been identified in El Paso, the embargoes apply to the entire state, which ranks 6th in the country for poultry production and claims to stand to lose $100 million. With millions of birds being produced in close proximity every month, consolidation has caused the industry to be more vulnerable to disease. "There's no doubt that the evolution of the industry has created more efficiency, but it's also made it more vulnerable to catastrophic disease," explains a corporate veterinarian for Pilgrim's Pride, "If you're an exotic disease like Newcastle, you just died and went to heaven." The current epidemic was first detected in Los Angeles last October. Since then, 20 commercial operations in California have been infected and the USDA has killed more than 3.5 million birds in an attempt to stop its spread (see N.7, V.2). Isolated cases have also been found in Nevada and Arizona. The Texas outbreak was caused by a cockfighter who brought the virus back from a trip to New Mexico. Bio-safety measures are thought to be rarely practiced by cockfight enthusiasts, many of whom travel interstate or into Mexico for fights. The USDA warns that Newcastle disease can also be spread by debeaking and vaccination crews, truck drivers and manure haulers.        
"Virus Takes a Toll on Texas Poultry," The New York Times, Simon Romero, May 16, 2003.

In California, the joint federal and state Newcastle Task Force has spent about $100 million to fight the disease, millions of which is being spent compensating cockfighters. Though the activity is illegal in California, and cockfighters are suspected of having brought the disease into the state, they are being paid $50-250 per bird (and above) while most people are reimbursed about $2.50 per chicken. Once birds are identified as infected or as being a disease threat, cockfighters merely have to provide a hand-written receipt or an ad to establish their market value. Refusing an interview with ABC News, the Task Force instead supplied a statement explaining that it is "an animal health organization, not a law enforcement organization," and that it is "required by law to pay the owners of birds destroyed based on fair market value." Wayne Pacelle, of the Humane Society of the U.S., remarked that cockfighters are "causing taxpayers tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars and we're paying the bill for it. It's just an outrage." He calls instead for their prosecution, which is what law enforcement officials in the Bay area are doing. The state senate recently passed a bill which would increase penalties for cockfighting to a mandatory 6 months in jail and fines up to $25,000. California's poultry industry is estimated to be worth $3.5 billion. Nine counties in southern California have been quarantined to prevent Newcastle from spreading  north. A video of the full television news report is available on the site.
"Project Pork," ABC 7, May 13, 2003.

A new law with stricter penalties against cockfighting went into effect on May 14th. Included in last year's Farm Bill (see issue #92), the law subjects anyone caught transporting fighting birds across state lines or overseas to a fine of up to $15,000 and up to a year in jail. Legislation has been introduced to make interstate transport of the birds a felony punishable by up to 2 years in prison. Florida just made the possession or sale of birds for fighting a possible felony, and Oregon also added felony provisions with fines up to $100,000 and 5 years in jail. For more information and examples of penalties in other states, see:  
"Cockfighting Transport Law Begins Wednesday," The Daily Iberian, Jeff Moore, May 13, 2003.

The Wilgenburg brothers, owners of Ward Egg Farm, will not be prosecuted for the tens of thousands of hens (in excess of 60,000, according to one report) who were thrown into wood-chipping machines in February (see N.7, V.2). The case had been closed in April, in part because the district attorney believed the use of the chipper was "standard industry practice." It was reopened a week later after "an outcry from animal rights activists around the country." On May 14th, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said the earlier decision was being upheld since the Wilgenburgs had acted on the advice of a veterinarian and had few options in getting rid of the birds due to quarantine (see item #2). "We understand that there are those who are outraged by this means of disposal," she said, "But we have looked at this case very closely and after thorough review, we believe the ranch owners did not do anything criminal under the law as it is written." She commented that the brothers' had not acted with malicious intent. The USDA has said that, in keeping with quarantine regulations, it would financially compensate the Wilgenburgs for the birds.
The Wilgenburgs contend they were acting on the advice of Gregg Cutler, initially reported to be a consulting veterinarian with the USDA. A USDA spokesperson denied Cutler is an employee or consultant of the USDA. Cutler's attorney denies his client is employed by the USDA or that he consulted the Wilgenburgs.  "What he has done, in the past, is opine about the different ways to dispose of chickens, including the wood chipper or grinder," he said, "There are a large number of people who believe it's the most humane way, because it's instantaneous." In mid-April, the American Veterinary Medical Association issued a press release stating it "does not endorse, recommend, nor approve the use of wood chippers for the euthanasia of poultry....It is absolutely absurd and ludicrous to believe that any veterinary medical association....could or would advocate throwing live chickens into a wood chipper as an appropriate method of euthanasia" (see: ). A spokesperson for United Egg Producers has said the use of a wood chipper is unacceptable and atrocious. The Humane Society of the U.S. denounces the government's decision, noting that, according to the California penal code, it is illegal to cruelly kill an animal and there is no need to prove malicious intent: See also:
"San Diego DA Says Chicken Ranchers Won't Face Cruelty Charges," Associated Press, 5/14/03
"DA Asks for More Information in Chicken Chipping Case," North County Times, Kathryn Gillick, April 19, 2003.
"County Investigates Mulching of Live Chickens," ibid, February 28, 2003.

The California Newcastle task force is offering grief therapy to people whose birds were killed to control the disease. Stress counseling and sensitivity training is also being provided to field workers. As of early May, about 140,000 companion birds, kept by nearly 2,400 people, and 3 million commercial birds had been killed by the task force. Some residents told of being terrified and traumatized by task force officials. Details can be found at:  USDA employees work rotations of 3 weeks on the task force and 12 days off. The state has applied for federal funds to hire an ombudsman to mediate between the task force and residents.
"Grief Counseling to Owners of Poultry with Newcastle Disease," Associated Press, May 5, 2003.
The British Poultry Council (BPC) is calling for a system of tariffs to control poultry meat imports from outside of the EU. A spokesperson explained that, unlike the poultry production and processing industry in other countries, the EU poultry industry is having to meet certain welfare and food safety standards along with higher labor costs and environmental constraints. "EU poultry farmers operate within a strict legislative framework, which reflects certain values strongly held by our society. Far more fundamental than simply ensuring safe food, these social values embrace employment conditions, animal health and welfare and environmental controls," he said. "Green box" payments [a type of subsidy under WTO rules, see PDF FILE: ] were dismissed as inappropriate. Tariffs were deemed "more transparent than the devious tools of blatant protectionism used so effectively by the USA and other countries."
The Council also called on the British government to stand up for the poultry industry in future negotiations in the EU over the forthcoming chicken welfare directive. Junior agriculture minister Elliot Morley told the BPC the government shares their welfare concerns and seeks a level playing field both in the EU and globally. "We have pressed hard to secure acceptance of animal welfare as a legitimate concern under a new WTO Agreement on Agriculture," he said. Morley ruled out new tariffs, however, on the grounds that the government is trying to free up the market.
"Call for Tariffs on Poultry Imports," Meat News, May 13, 2003.   

The High Court has ruled that Compassion in World Farming's case against fast-growth chickens (see N.14, V.2) has legal merit. A full hearing on the matter should occur later this year:
Chickens in western Canada are primarily fed wheat, but during a recent drought they were instead fed corn. The birds reached market weight 2-3 days quicker than the usual 40-42 days of age. A researcher who is looking into it said the same results haven't been seen before when corn has been used as feed. He speculates the extra growth may have been caused by the quality of the corn or the type of bacteria in the birds' digestive tracts. Some 2,400 chicks will be used in a comparative dietary study. Results from the $10,000 study, funded by the Alberta Chicken Producers, Maple Leaf Poultry and the University of Alberta, are expected in June.
The University of Queensland (Australia) has begun a study it claims will help finalize the debate over the welfare of commercial chickens. More than 8,000 birds will be studied in battery cages, uncaged, and free range conditions over the next 3 years. The birds' psychological states, among other factors, are to be taken into account. To facilitate this, the researchers have developed a technique whereby stress hormones can be measured in eggs rather than having to take blood samples:
"Corn-Fed Chicks Grow Like Gangbusters," The Edmonton Journal, Allyson Jeffs, May 17, 2003.
"Chook Stress to Go Under Microscope," ABC Southern Queensland, May 12, 2003
"There's far more rationality and mental complexity in farm animals than we acknowledge," a research director for Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) told BBC News. A briefing paper by the organization explains: "There is evidence that some animals do have some level of morality and some concern over other animals....Living within a group requires a moral code of behavior....Most animals that live in communities exhibit similar moral codes to humans." CIWF says there is evidence of altruism in other species, with, for example, some animals acting disinterestedly for the good of others. The organization held a May 10th conference on the awareness, emotions and intentions of other animals. In 1997, the European Union recognized that animals are sentient, possessing a level of conscious awareness. Scientific claims of animal sentience are dismissed as anthropomorphic by critics such as the Countryside Alliance (: ) But Dr. James Kirkwood, chief executive and scientific director of the Universities' Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW: ) declared: "We can't prove absolutely even that another human being is sentient, though it would obviously be unreasonable to assume they are not. But the weight of scientific opinion is that it's certainly right to give the benefit of the doubt to all vertebrates."
"Animals ĎAre Moral Beings,'" BBC News, Alex Kirby, May 9, 2003