As a result of slaughterhouse closures during the pandemic, some producers have used a cruel method called “ventilation shutdown,” or VSD, to kill whole herds of pigs.
Ventilator shutdown involves locking a flock or herd of animals in a building and turning off the ventilation systems. As the temperature rises and gases inside the building accumulate, the animals suffocate to death, usually over a period of many hours.
In an even more extreme form, referred to as VSD-plus, heat, steam and/or gas are injected into the building, baking the animals alive.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), a trade association for the veterinary profession, classifies VSD as “permitted in constrained circumstances” for pigs and chickens, such as situations of acute urgency involving an animal disease outbreak.
Unfortunately, during the pandemic, this guidance has been misinterpreted by pig producers to cut costs. Meanwhile the AVMA, instead of clarifying its guidelines or revising them to make sure they are not misapplied, has remained silent.
More than 2,900 veterinary professionals and advocates, including 1,445 veterinarians (830 of whom are AVMA members), sent a petition to the AVMA asking the organization to take a stand against VSD. The petition, which is backed by leading veterinary and animal protection organizations, including the ASPCA, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association and Veterinarians Against Ventilation Shutdown, urges AVMA to reclassify VSD in all its forms as “not recommended,” making it clear that this inhumane practice is not acceptable in virtually any circumstance.
“Veterinarians and the AVMA have the responsibility to ensure that animals designated for depopulation experience a rapid loss of consciousness or loss of brain function under the prevailing conditions, and that they are handled in a humane manner before and during their depopulation,” the petition states.
“Even under the rare and dire circumstances that animals must be destroyed, veterinarians must be clear that protecting animal welfare cannot be compromised for convenience,” said Dr. Gail Hansen, DVM, MPH, the HSVMA veterinary representative who submitted the petition today on behalf of the group.
“Ventilation shutdown is an incredibly barbaric response to challenges resulting from COVID-related disruptions, and we condemn any attempts to use cruelty as a pathway to cost-efficiency and convenience,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA president and CEO. “We stand with thousands of veterinary professionals calling on the AVMA to make clear that inflicting pain and suffering on these animals is unacceptable, especially when more humane methods are both recommended and available.”
Most professionals in the veterinary and animal protection arena do not condone VSD because it does not cause immediate loss of consciousness, which makes it inhumane. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) — an intergovernmental body responsible for improving animal health worldwide — does not recognize ventilation shutdown in any form, even for emergency disease control.
The AVMA’s silence on this issue is deafening; we urge the organization to listen to the voices of veterinarians, including its own members. Animals raised in factory farms face nothing but misery from the day they are born or hatched until the day they are killed. They are often confined in small, barren cages where they can barely move. Chickens at the slaughterhouse have their necks slit open with a slicing blade, many while still conscious. No animal deserves to live in such acute misery, and they definitely do not deserve a death that, if anything, is even worse. The meat industry has a responsibility to ensure that operators do not place convenience and cost above the most basic standards of animal welfare. Revised guidance from the AVMA would go a long way in helping move them in that direction.
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