Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) last struck the poultry industry in the United States in 2015, when 48 million backyard and commercial birds were confirmed infected. The US Department of Agriculture generally orders the immediate destruction (or “depopulation”) of flocks testing positive for HPAI to reduce the risk of transmission of the disease to nearby flocks (and, presumably, to end the suffering that occurs with the HPAI subtype, H5N1). According to the USDA, the 2022 H5N1 outbreak is expected to be less severe than the 2015 outbreak because of recent improvements in biosecurity, testing, and preparation.
Nevertheless, as of early April, more than 20 million chickens and turkeys in multiple states had been killed to halt the spread of this year’s outbreak. The intensive nature of animal agriculture in the United States means that, in some locations, more than 1 million birds may be culled. It is difficult, if not impossible, to kill this number of animals humanely within a short period of time. Through Freedom of Information Act requests to the USDA, AWI is monitoring how the birds are currently being killed, and we will continue to encourage government officials to use the least inhumane depopulation methods available to deal with the disease.