Economic Slowdown Drives Gruesome Mass Killings of Farm Animals
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Economic Slowdown Drives Gruesome Mass Killings of Farm Animals

With Few Buyers on Hand, Farmers Resort to Grotesque Methods: Smothering Thousands of Birds, Steaming Hogs to Death

Sarah Okeson

Sarah Okeson

Because of COVID-19 and the resultant shuttering or slowing of slaughterhouses, U.S. farmers are smothering chickens in foam or steaming pigs to death.

In April, Trump regulators set up a center to coordinate mass killings of chicken, hogs and other livestock. An estimated 10 million hens already have been killed, most smothered by foam.

Trump’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service didn’t respond to emails from

“The mass killings now taking place are a tragic waste of animal life, causing an abhorrent amount of avoidable suffering; they graphically reveal that the factory farming system is fundamentally frail, flawed, and cruel,” said the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The service approved using foam for mass killings of chickens and other poultry in 2006 when public health officials feared that bird flu spreading to humans would become a pandemic. Chicken farmers needed a way to kill infected birds fast.

ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

Still from company video showing chickens being smothered. (KIFCO)

Call Kevin Shea, the administrator of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, at 202-799-7017 to tell him your thoughts about suffocating chickens with foam and killing pigs with steam, email him at [email protected] or write the agency at 4700 River Rd., Riverdale, Md. 20737.

Contact the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at [email protected] or 888-666-2279.


George “Bud” Malone, a researcher at the University of Delaware, adapted foam that firefighters use to put out fires for smothering chickens. Kifco, a farm equipment company in Havana, Ill., came up with machinery to deploy the foam. A video clip the company put online, which may be upsetting, shows the foam being deployed. A similarly disturbing video of hogs being killed en masse is on YouTube.

Malone and two colleagues at the University of Delaware, Eric R. Benson and Robert Alphin, patented the machinery used to spread the poultry-killing foam.

‘Most Gruesome Deaths’

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals unsuccessfully asked the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2017 to ban using foam in its guidelines for killing animals, calling it among the “most gruesome deaths imaginable.”

The ASPCA also asked the veterinary association to ban ventilator shutdown, turning off the ventilation for pigs and chickens so they literally cook to death in the heat.

Ron DeHaven, the administrator at APHIS when foam was approved for killing poultry later became the chief executive officer at the veterinary association. He retired from that job in 2016.

Hannah Connor, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said she didn’t know how much foam has been used to kill chickens at farms that couldn’t get their birds to slaughterhouses because of the pandemic.

Seeking a Ban

The center and other environmental organizations are asking APHIS to write emergency rules that would ban animals being buried in unlined pits during the pandemic or burned on the farms where they are killed to limit pollution. They are also asking the agency to create and publish an online database about federal help for disposing of the bodies of chickens and other livestock killed during the pandemic.

“One of the goals of the petition is to establish that transparency so that people can protect themselves and their communities from exposure to such pollutants,” Connor said.

Featured image: Foam suffocating a flock of chickens. (Last Chance for Animals/Facebook) 

July 23, 2020