Bird Flu: What to Know and What You Can Do

May 3, 2024


Update May 3, 2024: The number of birds culled since Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza was first detected has increased to nearly 100 million. Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that one in five commercial milk samples contained traces of the H5N1 virus. 

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, commonly known as bird flu or avian flu, is making headlines as it continues to spread at epidemic levels. Over the last two years, the virus has ravaged poultry farms across the country, resulting in cruel "depopulation” (the mass killing of farm animals). Sadly, more than 85 million birds have been culled since the disease was first detected in 2022. To make matters worse, bird flu jumped from birds to dairy cows in the U.S. and infected a worker at a Texas dairy farm.

The factory farming system is not set up to withstand disruptions or disasters like contagious disease. Over the past few years, a handful of corporate agribusinesses have ordered millions of animals to be depopulated on factory farms. These animals do not end up in the food supply and instead are killed to prevent further infection. Depopulation occurs even if just one bird in these industrial operations tests positive for a virus. The methods used are incredibly cruel; ventilation shutdown, for example, is when animals are sealed inside of barns, ventilation systems are turned off, and the temperature inside the barn rises until the animals die. It’s a slow, agonizing and terrifying way for animals to spend their last moments.

By confining a large number of animals together, factory farms maintain a business model that incubates disease and makes it nearly impossible to prevent the spread of disease. Somehow, they continue to receive financial support from the federal government for depopulation, and it is costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. The USDA and agricultural industry defend cruel depopulation and conceal the dangers of factory farming, but consumers are increasingly aware of and repulsed by the industry’s practices and are looking for alternatives.

Solutions for a More Humane and Resilient Future

Policy Reform
The Industrial Agriculture Accountability Act (IAA), federal legislation introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), offers solutions to address animal cruelty and the other devastating impacts of factory farms. This bill will:

  • Require industrial operators to register large, high-risk Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO)s and submit disaster preparedness plans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Hold industrial operators accountable for the costs of preparing for and responding to disastrous events like contagious disease.
  • Ensure that industrial operators aren’t using the worst depopulation practices, including ventilation shutdown.

The New York Times recently published a letter from ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker that cites the critical need for legislation like the IAA to hold corporations accountable for cruel depopulation during the bird flu outbreak.

Urge your representatives in Congress to cosponsor the Industrial Agriculture Accountability Act. Use our easy online form to send an email today!

Consumer Demand

Every food item you purchase casts your vote for how animals should be raised. Use your consumer power to reject factory farming! Your choices can demonstrate that there is no market for farm animal cruelty. If you eat animal products, purchase meat, dairy or eggs from credible, animal welfare-certified farms or choose plant-based foods. Our Shop With Your Heart resources will help you to find these higher-welfare foods, teach you how to make sense of food label claims and show you just how easy it is to eliminate factory-farmed foods from your diet.