By Carole Morison
A letter posted on a Facebook page, DelMarVA Poultry (uncensored), on Friday made its rounds. The letter indicates that Allen Harim, a local chicken company on Delmarva, will be “sacrificing” flocks of their chickens on farms they contract with. The reason for the decision by the company is because it doesn’t have enough workers showing up to its processing facility to slaughter and package the chickens. Considered essential personnel it doesn’t say why workers aren’t coming to work whether it be sickness or social distancing.
Attributed to Covid-19, worker attendance at the company processing plant has been reduced by some 50 percent, according to the letter, and the company is no longer able to slaughter the amount of chickens that need to be slaughtered. Calling it a “very difficult decision”, Allen Harim has begun killing chickens on the farms it contracts with. The growers the company contracts with will be left with the responsibility of disposing of the dead chickens. A local television station, WMDT 47, says the number of chickens being killed is almost 2 million.
The first thing that came to mind when I read the company letter was how will the contract growers be paid? As a farmer, and having raised chickens under contract in another life, it was an automatic reaction.
Allen Harim say’s “growers will be paid fairly”, without giving any detail. The chickens aren’t being killed because of a catastrophic illness such as Avian Influenza, which would be done by order from either the state or federal governments and pay is normally outlined in the contract between the company and the farmer. There is no governmental order to kill these chickens, it’s a private company decision because of inadequate planning. I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar that payments will go to the company for the economic loss, from some government fund, because of a National Emergency and lack of employees to process food. What the company decides to share with contract growers is anyone’s guess.
The thought of wasting so much chicken that otherwise would help to fill the shortages in grocery stores stared me in the face. I felt badly that there would be so much food waste while people are scrambling for it!
However, thinking of it from an animal welfare perspective, in this case, euthanizing the chickens might not be such a bad idea. A projected oversupply of at least a 6-week period by Allen Harim, would mean that the chickens could remain on farms for an extended 6-week time period if kept alive.
Chickens ready for slaughter have already grown to a targeted weight in 6 to 8 weeks on the farm. Through genetic selection, industrial chickens are designed to grow rapidly, far ahead in weight gain compared to bone and internal organ growth. Kept and fed longer would only add more weight to overburdened bones and internal organs and the chickens would suffer bone and organ issues, primarily heart attacks and skeletal problems such as legs not able to bear the unnatural weight. With a shortage of workers the company cannot guarantee that it will continue to bring feed to farms. Do you keep animals and watch them suffer until they die? Do you keep animals that might starve? I think not.
If you’re curious about how the chickens will be killed, quite frankly they will be smothered using gas or through mechanical means. The fans which bring fresh air inside of the chicken house are turned off and a gas is pumped into the chicken house until enough is used to kill the chickens. The gas method is costly, inconvenient to arrange depending on locale, and takes a much longer period time.
Mechanical means, called “ventilation shutdown”, consists of turning off all the fans that bring air into the chicken house and then wait for the chickens to suffocate. This method costs nothing and is easily done. It can be accomplished in a much shorter amount of time. Some say in as little as 3 hours. Either method is gruesome.
Some have voiced environmental and public health concerns. Environmentally speaking, the issue of how the dead chickens will be disposed of is my concern. One method is to leave the dead chickens inside the house, let them compost, and then clean all of it out from the chicken house(s) and spread it on farm fields or have it hauled away to other farm fields to be used as fertilizer. This method is costly and takes time.
Using the burial method of disposal is the quickest, cheapest, and easiest method. It involves digging a trench or pit, putting the dead chickens in and covering them with dirt. The problem with this method is leaching and discharging contaminants into groundwater.
The chickens aren’t being killed because they have a disease or virus which could potentially spread to other chickens or make humans sick.
Is this situation a single occurrence or a preview of things to come from chicken companies as the Covid-19 virus slowly makes it way past the Delmarva Peninsula. Poor planning of chicken production numbers and not taking the virus and the many warnings into account is the reason it’s an issue. Delmarva’s poultry industry is not immune.
All over the country, processing plants are experiencing worker shortages, some have had to shut down. Although Allen Harim doesn’t say if the absent workers have tested positive for Covid-19 or if they are sick, it can safely be assumed that some if not all that are absent are ill. Workers that I have spoken with say that they’ve been threatened with job termination if they don’t come to work regardless of feeling unwell or not. Many don’t speak or understand English very well or not at all, cannot find work anywhere else, and don’t understand the law. They have families to feed and would not miss work on a whim. Let’s hope and pray that any workers who are sick with the virus get well again and don’t become another statistic.
There are so many ways that the people of Delmarva are affected by the poultry industry and so many ways that they pay for it. It’s unsustainable and only survives when propped up by taxpayer dollars. Two million chickens being slaughtered and dumped because of poor business planning before and during a pandemic should not be happening. This is another example among many of how the industry has negative impacts on the communities that surround it.