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NEW YORK December 16, 2020 – Today, veterinary and animal protection groups sent a petition signed by over 2,900 veterinary professionals and advocates to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) asking the organization to take a stand against ventilation shutdown (VSD). VSD is a cruel method of depopulation—mass, on-farm killing—that has been used on untold numbers of farm animals as COVID-19 has caused slaughterhouse closures and disruptions. While AVMA suggests VSD is only appropriate as a last resort in certain circumstances, their silence on this matter during the pandemic has allowed for a tragic misapplication of their own depopulation guidelines. Reclassifying VSD in all its forms as “not recommended” within the AVMA depopulation guidelines would clarify that this inhumane practice is not acceptable in any circumstance.

VSD involves sealing a flock or herd of animals in a building and turning off the ventilation systems so the temperature rises and toxic gases accumulate, eventually killing the animals by inducing hyperthermia and/or suffocation, sometimes after hours of anguish. In the case of VSD plus (VSD+), heat, steam, and/or gas are added. This is akin to leaving a dog in a hot car with the heat on high, essentially baking animals to death. Currently, VSD+ is listed in the AVMA’s depopulation guidelines as “permitted in constrained circumstances” for poultry and pigs, namely situations of acute urgency involving an animal disease outbreak. Although these circumstances do not include a foreseeable backup of healthy animals, some industry voices have pointed to the guidelines as condoning the use of VSD+ during COVID-19 disruptions. Some companies have opted for the callous efficiency and cost-savings of VSD rather than using any of the more humane recommended methods listed in the AVMA euthanasia guidelines or its depopulation guidelines.

The use of any killing method that does not cause immediate loss of consciousness is widely considered inhumane and unacceptable. A 2015 animal health industry presentation on poultry depopulation stated that VSD is not considered humane, as “it results in longer periods of time for suffering compared to other methods,” and may be ineffective in killing all animals. The current AVMA Depopulation Guidelines cite a study demonstrating that pigs survived up to 16 hours after ventilation shutdown. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)—an intergovernmental body responsible for improving animal health worldwide—does not recognize ventilation shutdown in any form, even for emergency disease control

“Ventilation Shutdown is animal cruelty, causing unbearable agony and a slow death,” said Dr. Ernie Ward, DVM, a representative of the group Veterinarians Against Ventilation Shutdown. “We are calling on the AVMA to ensure that their standards reflect the oath each of us took to protect animals’ welfare by ending this unnecessary and inhumane practice.”

“Thousands of veterinary professionals are calling on the AVMA to put forward clear guidance that deters the use of this undeniably and unacceptably cruel practice,” said Dr. Camille DeClementi, VMD, Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Hospital. “With COVID-19 cases on the rise and countless numbers of animals at risk, the AVMA must step into its responsibility to draw a clear line around VSD in all its forms, and advocate instead for the use of more humane alternative methods.”

“Even under the rare and dire circumstances that animals must be destroyed, veterinarians must be clear that protecting animal welfare cannot be compromised for convenience,” said Dr. Gail Hansen, DVM, MPH, a Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association veterinary representative.

The petition calling on the AVMA to reclassify VSD in all its forms has been signed by over 2,900 individuals including 1,490 Veterinarians and 827 American Veterinary Medical Association members. The AVMA will meet in January 2021 and should vote on this issue at that time.