Delmarva group calls for halt to chicken depopulation

A citizen-based coalition is asking Delmarva’s poultry industry to spare the lives of a handful of chickens through flock depopulation caused by low staffing at processing plants during the COVID-19 crisis.

In an Monday press release, Save Delmarva Chickens announced the formation of a citizens’ coalition and a petition, opposing what it says is depopulation of 2 million chickens.

Save Delmarva Chickens has taken action, asking Delmarva Poultry Industry, Allen Harim LLC, DPI Executive Director Holly Porter, Allen Harim LLC President Key Allen, Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse, U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, Delaware Gov. John Carney, Delaware Speaker of the House Peter Schwartzkopf and Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst to help save the lives of these chickens “who are just victims of this pandemic,” the coalition release stated.

“Basically, the call to action was to spare some of the chickens and also try to find – I don’t like to say a more humane way to kill them because we don’t believe that there is; they are being killed regardless – but our big goal is to have 10 chickens saved,” said Hockessin resident Agustina Sosa, one of the founders of the coalition. “We’re hoping that those 10 chickens can snowball into saving more, if they surrender them. We have sanctuaries willing to take them.”

A petition and Facebook initiative has generated support, with more than 1,700 signatures as of late Tuesday morning supporting Save Delmarva Chicken’s request, Ms. Sosa said.

The Save Delmarva Chickens movement was sparked when Ms. Sosa spotted a story on the depopulation of 2 million chickens.

“I saw that, and I said, ‘depopulation,’ what is that? It basically ties into the low staffing at the processing plants, the slaughterhouses,” said Ms. Sosa.

The most humane thing to do is to care for these birds, not kill them, Save Delmarva Chickens believes.

“We’re just trying to bring more attention to how inhumane it is to mass kill these 2 million birds when they are not infected by the virus, and they are not guilty of anything other than just being bred into the industry,” said Ms. Sosa. “We have not heard from the companies themselves after all the calls and emails that we sent. The petition we think is going to put even more pressure.”

Meanwhile, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an American animal rights organization, has weighed in.

According to PETA’s press release, following published reports of Millsboro-based Allen Harim Foods’ plans to kill 2 million chickens without processing their bodies for human consumption, PETA sent an urgent letter calling on the company to ensure that the birds will be killed using only means approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association for non-emergencies.

“These millions of chickens don’t deserve be tossed into an old wood chipper or struck with a two-by-four, as PETA has documented in other ‘depopulation’ efforts,” said PETA Senior Vice President of Cruelty Investigations Daphna Nachminovitch. “The law, veterinary guidance, and common decency all mandate that the chickens receive the quickest and least cruel death possible.”

According to James Fisher, community manager for Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc., the 1,800-member trade association working for the common good of the meat chicken industry in Delaware and Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, the impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. chicken industry “is becoming more apparent as the disease continues to spread throughout the United States.”

“Reduced employee attendance at chicken processing plants is an issue on Delmarva and across the U.S. during this unusual time. As a result, some of Delmarva’s processing plants are operating below their normal capacity, although other plants are operating normally,” Mr. Fisher said. “Plant capacity can change day to day, depending on attendance, and predicting capacity is difficult. These are extraordinary times, and these are extraordinary situations, and everyone in the chicken community is doing all that we can to stop the spread of COVID-19 while maintaining a safe food supply.”

Processing operations at Mountaire, one of Delmarva’s major poultry processors, have no plans for flock depopulation.

“We have no plans at this time to depopulate any chickens, but we understand that other companies are faced with difficult decisions during this crisis,” said Catherine Bassett, director of communications and community relations for Mountaire Farms Inc. “We have an amazing team at Mountaire Farms, that works together to produce the best quality products that our customers have come to expect from us. They have faced this challenge with strength and determination and we’re proud of them every day.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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