A recent press release by PETA and consequential national publicity in the print and social media highlighted the practice of disposing of depleted flocks by grinding hens alive. We have faced this issue with cockerel chicks and received criticism as an industry. Following the quarantine on the movement of live poultry from San Bernardino and Riverside counties of California in 2002 as a result of exotic Newcastle disease, producers had to find alternatives to shipping hens northward to a Sacramento processing plant. One producer fed live hens into a wood chipper resulting in a public outcry and condemnation.

Now the industry is faced with the aftermath of a PETA disclosure that the management of TWJ Farms located in Wayne County, Neb., regularly disposes of spent hens by grinding live birds without prior CO2 euthanasia. The owner of the farm Joe Claybaugh defended the action which hopefully is an aberration, by stating without physiological evidence “that the grinding process kills the chickens more quickly than gassing and is therefore more humane.”

Witnesses of the process recount alleged mutilation and partial dismemberment of individual hens during the process. How this Neanderthal can consider the practice of live grinding “humane” defies imagination. Live grinding is heinous and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Cost is the only justification for not gassing hens in “kill carts” or dumpsters prior to grinding or other methods of disposal.

What Claybaugh in his ignorance and self-centered indifference forgets is the effect on the image of the industry. Our loyal consumers can relate to inhumane practices including severe beak trim (read “de-beaking”), starvation molting and now this patently abhorrent method of depletion. The fact that TWJ Farms is a supplier to Michael Foods did not pass unnoticed and this company was forced to respond by banning the practice with immediate effect.

It remains to be seen whether the UEP will issue a statement of condemnation and disassociating the mainstream of the industry from the callous and irresponsible actions of this producer. It does not require a panel of experts to rule on this gross deviation from acceptable management of living animals. It also does not require a consumer survey to establish the public resentment towards live grinding. A rapid response from UEP or their public relations consultants would have been helpful as many consumers may regard silence as endorsement or indifference.

If there are other producers engaging in this practice they should cease grinding live hens immediately and initiate CO2 gassing prior to disposal. We absolutely do not want to hand PETA, HSUS and kindred organizations any issues which reflect adversely on what may be regarded as an industry committed to humane practices. Gross violation of acceptable husbandry inevitably leads to restrictive legislation and increased scrutiny by regulatory agencies. This affects the innocent and those who follow acceptable codes of practice.

The Claybaughs within our industry and others with an evident disregard of their responsibilities as participants in the chain of food production and stewardship of living animals should be condemned and their practices brought into conformity with acceptable standards.