Government Approves Firefighting Foam to Exterminate Birds




“Currently, the APHIS standards apply to broiler chickens and turkeys and presumably would include floor-reared egg-laying pullets [young hens of pre-egg laying age], non-caged commercial egg production flocks of hens, and breeders.”  WATT Poultry USA, Dec. 2006

“FOAM ALONE is what you need. One person can do whole-house depopulation with Avi-FoamGuard.” Advertisement in the International [Poultry] Expo Guide ’07.

In November 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) approved firefighting foam to kill chickens and turkeys en masse in cases of infectious disease outbreaks such as avian influenza or when poultry buildings are damaged by disasters such as hurricanes. USDA said foam can be an alternative to carbon dioxide to suffocate floor-reared birds (as opposed to hens stacked in battery cages).

The foam is said to obstruct birds’ upper respiratory tract including the trachea and should “result in the death of 95 percent of birds within seven minutes and 100 percent of the flock within 15 minutes of submergence.” Birds still alive after 15 minutes or more of burial in the foam are then supposed to be “euthanized.” (Make that choked, beaten or stomped to death.)

On June 21, 2006, USDA held a meeting on Methods of Mass Depopulation of Poultry, requesting follow-up recommendations by invited attendees including Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns.

Describing foam experiments to kill noncaged hens, one researcher at the meeting showed slides depicting what he called “a lot of escape behavior for 4 to 6 minutes. You saw birds’ heads sticking out of the foam.” Eventually, he said, they were “worn out” with their “volitional struggle” underneath the foam.

“Horribly Inhumane”

Poultry scientist Dr. Ian Duncan of the University of Guelph in Ontario says “foam is a horribly inhumane way to kill birds. You can’t tell if they are suffering or vocalizing because they are covered up.”

Dr. Holly Cheever of the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights told USDA: “By virtue of their being hidden from view and possibly unable to vocalize as they are covered with the foam, determining their degree of suffering becomes problematic. Also, although the birds do not seem to struggle as the wall of foam approaches them, their immobility should not be interpreted as a lack of stress or concern on the part of the birds. Finally, a board certified veterinary toxicologist states it is likely the chemical ingredients of the foam will cause irritation of the birds’ eyes, mucous membranes, and skin.”

In a report to USDA on behalf of The Humane Society of the United States, Dr. Mohan Raj of the University of Bristol in the U.K. wrote: A primary welfare concern with this method is that the birds appear to be killed either by suffocation or drowning. . . . A physiological definition of suffocation is the physical separation of the upper respiratory tract from the atmospheric air, which would happen if the birds were buried alive.”

“Mass Depopulation of Poultry as a Disease Control Method”

On July 6, 2006, United Poultry Concerns submitted a report to the USDA on “Mass Depopulation of Poultry as a Disease Control Method.” Declining to “recommend” extermination methods, we cited some of the welfare abuses and concerns identified by veterinarians and others (for example, CO2 painfully suffocates birds and can freeze them to death) concluding that “if mass exterminations are to be conducted, they should be done in such a way as to reduce to an absolute minimum the unavoidable suffering of the birds, based on the most advanced welfare criteria, regardless of competing goals of cost savings and expediency.”

Our report expresses doubt that government-industry will improve the unhygienic conditions that predispose poultry to a broad range of virulent diseases. “Government has likewise indicated it will not shut down live poultry markets, although this would appear to be a prudent step consistent with the recurrent poultry epidemics in which live bird markets are implicated and with the dire warnings of imminent pandemics of avian influenza issued by governments around the world, Mass exterminations will accordingly continue to be part of a system that by its very nature incubates and spreads diseases.”

“Mass Depopulation of Poultry as a Disease Control Method” can be read at or purchased from UPC for $5.

  • Don’t buy poultry and eggs. Go vegan. Order Instead of Chicken, Instead of Turkey ($14.95) and Replacing Eggs ($3.50) from UPC.
  • Urge USDA to stop supporting farming practices that promote avian influenza and to use only inert gases like nitrogen or argon to kill turkeys and chickens. Inert gasses are considered far less cruel than gas mixtures containing carbon dioxide.

    Mike Johanns, Secretary
    U.S. Department of Agriculture
    1400 Independence Ave, SW, Room 200-A.
    Washington, DC 20250
    Phone: 202-720-3631. Fax: 2166
    Email: [email protected]


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