Our Fight Against Inhumane “Depopulation” Methods

August 6, 2020


  • Due to the COVID-19 crisis, factory farms are trying to cut costs and recoup financial losses by “depopulating” or killing farm animals en masse using horrific, inhumane methods.
  • The ASPCA led a coalition of animal welfare organizations asking Congress to ensure that federal tax dollars won’t be used to support or reimburse inhumane “depopulation” methods.
  • You can help fight for a better and more compassionate farming system by asking your lawmakers to support the Farm System Reform Act.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, conditions for farm animals worsen. In fact, this pandemic has highlighted like never before the weaknesses and failures of our current industrial agriculture system, which relies heavily on the exploitation of animals and workers. Mass virus outbreaks among slaughterhouse employees and inspectors have resulted in slaughter plant shutdowns and backlogs of slaughter-bound animals on farms—leading to the “depopulation,” or mass killing, of millions of pigs, chickens and cattle. During “depopulation,” entire flocks or herds of animals are killed because of an emergency that prevents the regular slaughter process or humane euthanasia.

Some of the methods used to kill “excess” animals, like ventilation shutdown and water-based foam, are particularly inhumane. To kill chickens and pigs using ventilation shutdown, workers shut off barns’ ventilation systems with animals sealed inside, where they slowly die from overheating and suffocation. Water-based foam—often used in the poultry industry—essentially drowns or suffocates animals with a foam that obstructs their airways and causes death over several stressful and agonizing minutes.

Not surprisingly, Big Ag continues to lobby federal lawmakers for funding to compensate for the losses of “depopulated” animals without any welfare-related accountability or conditions in place. To fight against this, the ASPCA led a coalition of animal welfare organizations calling on Congress to ensure that federal tax dollars will not be used to reimburse for the most inhumane “depopulation” methods [PDF]. Additionally, we urge Congress to ensure that producers take preventive measures to prepare for future disasters and public health crises. The COVID-19 crisis has shown once again that a lack of preparation leads to dire consequences for animals during disasters and emergencies.

This is another example of why we must invest COVID-19 relief in building a more compassionate and sustainable food system. Higher-welfare farming is not only better for animals, but its practices are less likely to contribute to pandemics like the one we face today.

You can help us create a better farming system for everyone by asking your federal elected officials to support the Farm System Reform Act and by making your everyday food choices more compassionate, with our Shop With Your Heart resources.