Farmed Animal Watch: Objective Information for the Thinking Advocate
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March 22, 2006 -- Number 12, Volume 6

1. Poultry Welfare: Euthanasia and Effects of Lighting, Overcrowding, and Food

In February 2006, Farmed Animal Watch reported on the use of carbon dioxide (CO2)-based firefighting foam to mass slaughter flocks of poultry infected with disease. (See FAW 6-8). An abstract published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers says that "preliminary results indicate that the fire fighting foam is as or more effective and humane than conventional CO2 polyethylene bagging." The "conventional" method referred to involves layering sheets of plastic over the birds and gassing them with CO2, but the process is sometimes difficult to implement and requires many people.

According to the researchers, "The foam and polyethylene methods resulted in euthanasia in less than three minutes (CO2 polyethylene 2:08 minutes, foam with CO2 2:09 minutes, foam without CO2 2:54 minute)." The new process (patent pending) was shared at the annual conference of the US-based Poultry Science Association in August 2005 along with other research papers related to poultry welfare. Abstracts of the presentations are available by following the first link below; we have summarized several of the most interesting presentations in the following paragraphs.

Light and Intensity: Researchers from Auburn University studied 12 groups of male and female "broiler" chickens to measure growth and stress levels relative to long or short "daylengths" and bright or dim environments. The study showed that bodyweight decreased as daylength and light intensity decrease. Food consumption also decreased for the shorter daylengths and dimmer environments; "consumption was 0.16 lb/bird less in the short-dim treatment than the long-bright treatment." The researchers also attempted to calculate impact on the birds' stress by measuring heterophil/lymphocyte (H/L) ratios at day 40 of the experiment. According to the abstract," H/L ratios averaged 0.45 and were not affected by treatments… Daylength and intensity differences tested did not affect stress levels."

Effects of Overcrowding: Scientists at Mississippi State University studied the "live performance and processing yields" of male chickens raised in four different levels of crowding. The different "stocking densities" included 25, 30, 35, and 40 kilograms of bodyweight per square meter, with 75-120 chickens housed in each 5.5 square meter pen. Lighting was also varied and studied for effect. According to the abstract, "From 1 to 35 d(ays), bodyweight gain, feed consumption, and feed conversion were adversely affected with increasing stocking densities." The researchers noted more foot pad lesions and lower bodyweight for birds subjected to increased crowding. They concluded that "increasing stocking density beyond 30 kg BW/m2 adversely affects growth responses and meat yield of broilers grown to 1.8 kg."

Another study of overcrowding effects on "broiler" chickens and related social factors was presented by researchers from the University of Maryland. They used groups of 30 or 60 birds and computer modeling to determine chickens' use of spatial availability, impact on aggression, etc., under varying conditions. The researchers concluded that "the analysis of core areas suggest that birds at higher densities use a wider range of space, possibly as result of the presence of other birds in their path of movement." However, they say that social factors associated with increased "stocking density" do not impact the birds' movement or use of space.

Feeding and Overcrowding: Also from the University of Maryland, researchers presented results from a study measuring the impact on food consumption when non-edible filler material is added. The study was based on three different food ratios including 25%, 50%, or 75% filler material and found that the ratio has a significant impact on chickens' feeding responses. The researchers also found that time spent eating decreased with increased group size. They concluded that "despite generations of intense artificial genetic selection for heightened performance, broilers are immediately able to distinguish feeder quality based upon the effort required to obtain a food reward." They also noted that chickens adjust their strategies according to food quality and the "number of competitors present."

1. "Abstracts of Papers," Poultry Science Association Annual Meeting, August 2005
PDF (82k):

2. Also see: "Evaluating the Use of Fire Fighting Foam in Mass Poultry Euthanasia," American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, 3/6/06

2. Environmental News: U.S. Conservation Subsidies; Global Methane Emissions

Conservation Subsidies: The US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS) has released a five-part series of "economic briefs" describing government payments and subsidies to farmers. The series details differences between "commodity payments" designed to increase farmer income levels, and "conservation payments" intended to reduce environmental degradation. The first brief in the series says that "nearly all crop and livestock producers are eligible for at least one conservation program."

More specifically: "About 40% of US farms, representing 60% of all agricultural production, receive some type of government payment. Of the 40% of farms that do receive some type of government payment, only 15% - about 6% of all farms - receive both commodity and conservation payments… However, less than half of current conservation payments (43%) go to farms that also receive commodity payments… Farms receiving commodity payments encompass about 75% of agricultural land and account for 55% of crop production and 45% of livestock production." The primary funding for farmed animal operations is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), for which 60% of all funding must be paid to animal farmers.

Greenhouse Gases: A new report from the Switzerland-based World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says that all primary "greenhouse gases" responsible for ozone depletion have "reached new highs." The gases include carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane (CH4), with farming cited as a leading cause of methane pollution. WMO reports that the "mixing ratio" for methane was measured at 1,783 parts per billion in 2004, which is 155% higher than "pre-industrial times." Methane is said to contribute an estimated 20% of the "direct radiating forcing" caused by greenhouse gases attributed to human activities. About 60% of all methane production is caused by humans, with the primary sources listed as "fossil fuel exploitation, rice agriculture, ruminant animals, biomass burning, and landfills."

1. Series of Economic Briefs (Five Parts), USDA / ERS, 3/14/06
- Greening Income Support and Supporting Green:
- Better Targeting, Better Outcomes:
- Participant Bidding Enhances Cost Effectiveness:
- Contrasting Working-Land and Land Retirement Programs:
- Rewarding Farm Practices Versus Environmental Performance:

2. "Greenhouse Gas Bulletin," World Meteorological Organization, 3/14/06
PDF file (3.9 MB):

3. New BSE Discovery in U.S. Reignites Debates about Testing and "Downer" Cows

US agriculture officials on March 13 confirmed the country's second native case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) after testing the corpse of an Alabama cow. While still alive, the cow was described by veterinarians as "non-ambulatory," also known as a "downer" cow who is too sick or injured to stand under her or his own power. The discovery resulted in a chorus of complaints from government officials as well as animal and consumer advocates calling for increased BSE tests and a permanent ban on non-ambulatory animals entering the human food supply. Representative Ackerman (D-NY) said, "For the sake of the health and safety of the American people as well as for humane reasons, it should be absolutely obvious to the bureaucrats and lawmakers that there is no way that any downer should be allowed to enter the food chain and that these animals must be humanely euthanized, rather than eaten."

The discovery comes amidst an announcement from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) that it may reduce the number of BSE tests conducted in 2006 and 2007. The USDA has conducted an estimated 650,000 tests as part of an "enhanced testing program" during the past two years, and the program remains in place. However, the USDA hinted at the program's "conclusion" during a telephone news conference discussing the new BSE case. The advocacy group Consumers Union says that the US fiscal 2007 budget includes sufficient funds to test only 40,000 cows for BSE, representing only 0.1% of the 35 million cows slaughtered annually in the country. In response to the newest discovery, some government officials are also calling for a mandatory national animal identification system and, separately, a ban on feeding poultry litter to ruminant animals.

1. "BSE Case Draws Criticism of USDA, FDA,", 3/16/06 (Registration)

2. "Consumer Groups Urge US Not to Cut Mad Cow Tests," Reuters, 3/14/06 (

3. "Farm Sanctuary Renews Call for No Downer Policy amid Discovery of Mad Cow Disease," E-wire / Farm Sanctuary, 3/15/06

4. Farmed Animal Statistics: Poultry Data from U.S. Department of Agriculture

The following are poultry-related excerpts from the US Department of Agriculture's "Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook" (March 2006); see link to full document below for details.

"Broiler" Chickens:

  • "Broiler meat production for January 2006 was reported at 3.0 billion pounds, up 5.7% from last year. The increase in meat production was a result of both a higher number of broilers being slaughtered (up 3.4%) and higher average weights (up 2.4% to 5.5 pounds).
  • "With the production increase in January and an expected comparable increase in February, the estimated meat production for first-quarter 2006 was increased to 8.9 million pounds, a 3.6% increase from a year earlier.
  • "However, weekly chick placements for growout over the last 5 weeks (February 4 to March 4) averaged 174 million birds, fractionally below same period in 2005, indicating that producers have begun to slow production growth in response to lower prices.
  • "Even with slightly lower bird numbers, meat production is expected to increase in the second quarter due to higher average weights at slaughter. The overall broiler meat production estimate for 2006 is now 36.2 billion pounds, up 2.3% from 2005."
Hens' Eggs:
  • "Total egg production in 2005 was a record high of 7,504 million dozen, compared with 7,440 million dozen in 2004, or a growth of just under 1%.
  • In 2006, total egg production is expected to increase by more than 2%, to set a record high of about 7,645 million dozen, reflecting the building of the laying flocks in the second-half 2005.
  • "U.S. exports of total shell eggs and products (in shell egg equivalent) rose from 167.6 million dozens in 2004 to 205.9 million dozen in 2005, or nearly 2%. This is the highest export level since 1998, when exports were 219 million dozen."

  • "Turkey meat production in 2006 is forecast at 5.58 billion pounds, up 1% from 2005, but still lower than in 2002 or 2003.
  • "The increase in meat production in 2006 is expected to come from a combination of a higher number of birds slaughtered and higher weights, although weights in the first quarter of 2006 are not expected to be significantly higher than in the first quarter of 2005.
  • "During 2005, placements of turkey poults for growout totaled 276 million, slightly below 2004. However, in December 2005 and January 2006 placements were up significantly.
  • "In January 2006, turkey meat production was 447 million pounds, down 1.8% from a year earlier as a 2% gain in average slaughter weight was offset by a 3.6% decline in the number of birds being slaughtered."

"Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook," USDA / ERS, 3/17/06
PDF file (199k):

5. Other Items of Interest

"Kill Off Most to Save Bison Herd, Researchers Say," National Post, 3/20/06
Canadian agriculture officials are considering a plan to slaughter 4,000 bison belonging to the world's largest free-roaming herd because of cross-infection from grazing cows. The proposed plan calls for a 10-year "depopulation" or killing of the entire bison herd, following by another 10 years of "repopulation" with healthy animals. Most of the herd is now infected with brucellosis and tuberculosis contracted from farmed cows grazing in the region, and supporters of the plan say the diseases could cost Canadian farmers $1 billion over 20 years. (

OPINION: "End the Rough Ride for Farm Animals," The Globe and Mail, 3/15/06
An editorial by directors of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals says "more than two million farm animals arrived dead at federally inspected slaughterhouses" in 2004 due to outdated transport laws. In Canada, they say, ruminant animals may be transported up to 52 hours without water or rest, while pigs may be transported up to 36 hours. The editorial notes that these regulations are far behind Europe, which currently requires much more frequent resting and watering breaks. (

OPINION: "Factory Farming: A Moral Issue," Minnesota Daily, 3/22/06
Philosopher, professor, and author Peter Singer describes growing sentiment against "factory farms" from a broad segment of society beyond only animal protection advocates. Increased visibility among conservatives and some religious officials (i.e., The Pope) has led some to question the humaneness and efficiency of concentrated animal farming. Singer writes, "(Factory farming) has nothing going for it except that it produces food that is, at the point of sale, cheap. But for that low price, the animals, the environment and rural neighborhoods have to pay steeply."

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Compiled and edited by Hedy Litke and Che Green, Farmed Animal Watch is a free weekly electronic news digest of information concerning farmed animal issues gleaned from an array of academic, industry, advocacy and mainstream media sources.