November 22, 2005
The discovery of avian flu on a duck farm in the Fraser Valley and the announcement by Cornelius Kiley, a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) veterinarian in BC, that the farm would be ‘depopulated’ raises the spectre of the mismanagement of the initial crisis in 2004. CFIA government officials claim to have learned valuable lessons from that outbreak which will ensure an efficient response next time round. But will that response include humane slaughter of the potentially millions of birds involved?
In early 2005, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture conducted a review of the handling of the disaster. Ken Falk, the farmer on whose duck farm the flu has again been found, testified at the public hearing held in Abbotsford. Speaking on behalf of the BC Specialty Bird Association, he told he committee that the CFIA gassed up to 100,000 ducks on his farm with CO2 gas three to four times before they died:
“They had to gas some of our barns three or four times to get the birds to die, as they kept reviving…Instead of stopping they forged ahead and gassed them again and again…The CFIA suffocated approximately 100,000 ducks and geese. They did so knowing that it wasn’t working while watching the animals suffer and kept on going…keep in mind that these are not uneducated people who made the decision to kill the birds in this fashion – these are veterinarians.”
The resultant report painted a damning picture of an unprecedented animal welfare debacle. As well as grossly mismanaging the slaughter of long-necked birds like the ducks, it described how the CFIA made a failed attempt to gas a barn full of chickens with carbon dioxide (CO2) gas, but left 60 per cent alive. The remainder was beaten to death with sticks. Pets, specialty flocks and commercial pigeons were killed unnecessarily.
The Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals and the Vancouver Humane Society repeatedly cited the inappropriateness of CO2 gas for mass euthanasia of poultry, particularly long-necked birds such as ducks. Early on in the crisis, the CCFA requested that the CFIA consider using alternative gasses, as recommended by international poultry experts. The CCFA was ignored.
Since the government seemed unwilling or unable to address this issue, in January of 2005, the Vancouver Humane Society produced a report titled “A gentle and easy death? An examination of animal welfare issues during the 2004 avian influenza outbreak in British Columbia.” This report provided an overview and recommendations for future culls, to ensure public accountability and that the same mistakes would not be made again.
Repeated correspondence and meetings with officials resulted in a promise to establish a working group to review the animal welfare implications, but to date nothing has been done. No mention has been made of the use of a more appropriate gas or attendance by a third-party animal welfare representative appointed by the SPCA, although the government does see the value in videotaping the slaughter. The humane community has every right to be afraid that there will again be extreme suffering of animals taking place behind closed doors, with nobody present representing the interests of the animals involved.
The public does care about how animals are killed, even in an emergency where public health, food supply and economic issues are the foremost priorities. It is important that in a progressive society these concerns are not dismissed.