Asphyxiation Kills Poultry While Consumers Remain Unharmed

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), otherwise known as bird flu, is sweeping the Midwest with over 7.1 million birds being affected this last month. The virus has hit Minnesota the hardest, has expanded to more than a dozen states, and includes our own.

Government officials are concerned that HPAI could ball the southern states, too.

Flu is killing Illinois birds.

Flu is killing Illinois birds.

This highly infectious strain of fever originated from Asia before grabbing a North American virus. Turkeys and chickens may stop eating or become lethargic, begin to cough and sneeze, and die off quickly. The disease spreads through droppings of wild ducks and geese and may have permeated the insular poultry houses through gusts of wind or tracking of droppings.

Either way, experts say that you are unlikely to be harmed.

University of Illinois, Department of Animal Sciences Professor Kenneth Koelkebeck insisted that “no human infections with the virus (subtype H5N2) has ever been detected.” Think of yourself when you have a fever. Your temperature fluctuates from low to high. Right now, birds in the Midwest have a very high fever called Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).

But only owners and birds are harmed.

This is no happy time for poultry owners. Prices remains constant but many countries have banned imports of US poultry leading to declines in overseas shipments of turkey and chicken legs, chicken feet and other products. Farmers have also had to cull millions of their flock.

Up to date, more than 2.9 million birds have been asphyxiated in Minnesota. Numbers are assumed to be almost as high in Illinois, but no local statistics have as yet been released. The president of Lake Mills-based Daybreak Foods, for instance, has asphyxiated 800,000 chickens. He and others use carbon dioxide gas or smother the birds with firefighter’s foam. The poultry industry supports the procedures and the American Veterinary Medical Association regulates this so-called ‘depopulating’.

“It’s a gradual process when they’re asphyxiated,” said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota. Birds lie on the ground and foam is sprayed to cover the birds, suffocating them by blocking their airways.

“It’s a very calm way to use,” he said. “The birds don’t get stressed.”

Some advocates, including a group called United Poultry Concerns, disagree. They say birds have tried to escape when being sprayed and appear to be in pain. They insist that an inert gas, such as nitrogen or argon, would be more humane; but these methods are expensive.

Sharon Granskog, the assistant director for media relations for the American Veterinary Medical Association has declined to comment.

A bird-flu outbreak in the 1980s led to the elimination of about 17 million birds.

Story by Leah Zitter, Writer