Director of Animal ‘Welfare’ Backs Baking Animals Alive, Must Be Fired

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Writhing, panting, gasping, panicking, desperately trying to escape. How does a director of animal welfare give the green light for essentially baking birds alive? Conflict. Of. Interest.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) must fire Director of Animal Welfare Dr. Cia Johnson and replace her with someone who doesn’t have ties to the meat industry.

Johnson’s job is to protect animals from suffering in her role as primary staff consultant to the AVMA’s Panel on Humane Slaughter. She even assisted with developing the AVMA’s guidelines for euthanasia, depopulation, and slaughter. Yet she serves on several meat industry advisory panels, including the following:

  • United Egg Producers Scientific Advisory Committee
  • Office International des Epizooties panel on slaughter and depopulation
  • Dean Foods Animal Welfare Science Council
  • American Association of Bovine Practitioners Animal Welfare Committee

Someone in Johnson’s unique position shouldn’t rub elbows with industry insiders. The meat industry strives to maximize output while minimizing costs—always at animals’ expense. We can see this conflict of interest in the AVMA’s approval of the disturbing practice of ventilation shutdown (VSD) plus. The meat industry prefers forms of VSD Plus because it’s often cheaper and faster than other mass-killing options.

At least 33 million chickens across the U.S. were recently executed using cruel mass-killing methods because of an avian flu outbreak while Johnson has been in charge of protecting animal welfare through the AVMA. During VSD, workers turn off ventilation fans to suffocate animals. VSD Plus incorporates heat, humidity, or carbon dioxide in the process—asphyxiating animals and baking them to death. Experiments using just ventilation shutdown without heat or other additional methods showed hens panting, thrashing, and desperately trying to escape. And according to a study published on ScienceDirect, it takes nearly four hours, on average, for chickens to die using VSD alone.

A coalition of 276 concerned veterinarians presented a resolution to the AVMA to reclassify heatstroke-based depopulation methods as “not recommended” so that they’d never be used. Yet the AVMA has enabled this inhumane practice by listing VSD Plus as “permitted in constrained circumstances” for chickens and pigs.

At a recent conference for veterinarians, Johnson allegedly told an audience that “some of these [killing] methods are at risk of leaving the guidelines, I think you probably have an idea of what those methods might be. We need data to support them staying in the document.” A veterinarian and professor at the Western University of Health Sciences, James Reynolds, said that for the AVMA to selectively pursue data to back VSD Plus is entirely absurd and not based on science. Yet according to the AVMA, acting with integrity and leading with evidence-based information are among its core values.

Chickens are remarkable animals who communicate with their chicks through the eggshell before they even hatch. Just like humans, chickens experience fear and pain, and they suffer immensely on factory farms so that their flesh and eggs can be sold to consumers. VSD and VSD Plus are terrifying and excruciating methods of killing animals, so how could a director of animal welfare support them?

Animals deserve to have someone fight for their best interests. Please take action below to urge the AVMA to fire Johnson immediately and replace her with a director who has no ties to the meat industry.

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