June 2020
Pigs crammed together awaiting their eventual demise in a warehouse turned into an oven.

Many slaughterhouses have temporarily closed down as a result of the coronavirus. These closures left numerous factory farms with the dilemma of what to do with their animals for an extended period of time until the pandemic subsides. In response, many factory farms chose to “depopulate,” or mass slaughter, the animals on their farms. According to one news report, over 2 million chickens are estimated to have been killed as a result of slaughterhouse shutdowns and hundreds of thousands of pigs have already been killed. 

While the numbers of animals being killed is staggering, perhaps most shocking is the way in which they are being exterminated. One technique being used to kill pigs by the thousands is termed “ventilation shut down.” The farms close off all ventilation and shut down the fans and allow the pigs to bake in the intense heat and eventually die from hyperthermia and/or suffocation.

At one facility, after reaching 120 degrees inside the barns, it was reported that four to five hours later, none of the animals were dead. The factory farms soon learned that it was necessary to induce steam into the building to substantially increase the heat since lack of ventilation alone was not killing all of the pigs.  

The result is that most pigs die after hours of suffering from a combination of being suffocated from a lack of fresh air and roasted to death in the extreme heat. In one documented instance it was shown that those who managed to survive this intense cruelty were dispatched the following day by the use of captive bolt guns. 
Death on a factory farm.
Twenty-two concerned members of Congress have come together and written the USDA asking them to “act promptly” and to prohibit methods like ventilation shut down, since death by hyperthermia causes prolonged suffering. These federal legislators informed USDA that often animals are dying slow deaths from suffocation caused by the high levels of carbon dioxide and other gases that quickly accumulate in the barns. Congressional members described this drawn out process as "inhumane, distressing, and painful."

As for the chickens, many will be killed by suffocation by covering them in foam which blocks the respiratory tract resulting in hypoxia, convulsions, loss of consciousness, and eventual death.
Chickens often die from convulsions and hypoxia as a result of mass depopulation methods.
Unfortunately, rather than finding alternatives to the mass slaughter of farm animals during pandemics and natural disasters, factory farms are attempting to cover up the horrific suffering that is occurring on farms across the country. 

For example, after widespread reporting on these horrific and cruel depopulation methods, the Iowa Legislature this week is proposing to pass another “ag-gag” law. Instead of addressing the problem, the Legislature has decided to cover it up by enacting onerous penalties for reporting animal cruelty occurring on farms. Similar legislation was passed in Missouri several years ago although it is considered unconstitutional by legal scholars and has never been enforced.     

These appalling depopulation practices provide further evidence of the need for county health boards to have the authority to regulate factory farms to protect public health as well as the welfare of the animals. Currently, there are 20 counties in Missouri that have such regulatory authority. The Missouri Legislature, however, has attempted to prohibit additional counties from being able to regulate factory farms. There is a court battle going on at this moment, which you can learn more about here.

Meanwhile, members of Congress are asking USDA to ensure that farmers and producers use euthanasia methods deemed “preferred” or “acceptable” as outlined in the American Veterinarian Medical Association Guidelines when they choose to depopulate a farm. You can read the full letter here.