Millions of farm animals culled as US food supply chain chokes up

May 9, 2020 in News by RBN Staff


US government vets said to be ready to assist with culls, or ‘depopulation’ of pigs, chickens and cattle because of coronavirus meat plant closures

Covid-related slaughterhouse shutdowns in the US are leading to fears of meat shortages and price rises, while farmers are being forced to consider “depopulating” their animals.

More than 20 slaughterhouses have been forced to close, although some have subsequently reopened. On Tuesday President Trump issued an executive order to keep slaughterhouses open which would, he said, help solve liability problems for meat companies.

At least two million animals have already reportedly been culled on farm, and that number is expected to rise. Approved methods for slaughtering poultry include slow suffocation by covering them with foam, or by shutting off the ventilation into the barns.

A nationwide advisory issued last Friday by the US Department of Agriculture and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said state veterinarians and government officials would be ready to assist with culls, or “depopulation”, if alternatives could not be found.

The advisory was described by Leah Garcés, president of US welfare organisation Mercy for Animals, as a clear indication of a national farm animal emergency. Garcés told the Guardian that chickens are most at risk, followed by piglets. “Chickens are bred for speedy growth and are meant to be slaughtered at between 42 and 47 days. After that they die.”

Political leaders in Iowa – the biggest pig producing state in the US – have warned that producers could be forced to kill 700,000 pigs a week due to meat plant slowdowns or closures. The situation has been exacerbated by consolidation within the sector, with the number of meat plants having fallen by half in 45 years.