I was hesitant to bring up the topic of stopping ventilation – a technique used in crisis situations to mass kill livestock by heatstroke – because I have seen conversations become accusatory and even hostile, resulting in a fracture of the veterinary profession. But this subject is so important that I cannot be silent. Hope we can discuss it and avoid personal attacks by focusing on solutions.
A few facts about me: I graduated from a large production animal breeding university in Mexico and now practice in California. As a Latin American veterinarian, clients have requested to see a white doctor for me. Even professional colleagues have commented to me on how immigrants cause problems and should return to Mexico. My personal experiences have made me sympathetic to animals which are vulnerable to the prejudices of those in power. I see how destructive this dominance and lack of compassion mentality is to our relationships with other humans, other species, and the natural environment.
I realize that I am part of a system that believes that we, as the dominant species, can treat animals – which we know are aware of and feel pain – as units of production instead of unique and sensitive individuals. This belief is evidenced by the issue of stopping ventilation, or VSD, a method of slaughtering animals on farms en masse by shutting off the ventilation system to cause heat stroke and possibly death. VSD alone is generally recognized as inadequate for the task and is therefore usually combined with measures such as adding heat and humidity to accelerate death, a practice known as “stop ventilation plus” or VSD +.
Tolerance of VSD + by some in the profession calls into question not only whether we give adequate priority to animal welfare and consider their suffering when we use them for our benefit, but also whether we prioritize the mental health of animals. colleagues involved in their care and that of workers who are forced to inflict such suffering under veterinary authority.
The VSD + problem came to the fore in 2020 when illnesses and COVID-19 exposures among workers caused closures of slaughterhouses and meat-packing facilities, resulting in a backlog of animals for processing. slaughter. VSD + was used to slaughter large numbers of pigs, both due to financial pressures and because overcrowding would cause serious welfare problems. How many pigs were killed this way is unclear, but a letter from the National Council of Pork Producers suggests there could have been as many as 10 million animals. American Association of Veterinarians Guidelines for depopulating animals: 2019 edition allow the use of VSD + as a last resort. The guidelines classify VSD alone as “not recommended”, but VSD more heat and / or carbon dioxide is “permitted under limited circumstances” for poultry and pigs.
The idea that those in power have the right to exploit the most vulnerable is ingrained in our profession and our society. It also affects our science by influencing whose perspectives are centered on the questions we ask. A recent article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, “A case study of shutting down ventilation with the addition of high temperature and humidity for depopulation of pigs, “describes in detail how 243,016 pigs were killed by VSD + in Iowa between April and June 2020. The authors conclude: “Efficacy exceeded AVMA recommendations for the use of VSD + (> 95% mortality in
I was delighted to read letters to the editor responding to this article that presented differing opinions. The letters – one from Dr Gwendolen Reyes-Illg and another from Drs. Jim Reynolds, José Peralta and Beth Boynton – politely refute the claim that the data in the article shows that the AVMA guidelines were followed. The correspondents also discuss the pathophysiology of heat stroke and suffering in pigs. They offer possible alternatives and advocate changes and preparations to ensure that VSD + is never used again. Many of us agree.
In a response to the letters (appearing on the second and third pages of this pdf reprinted with permission from JAVMA), the case study authors argue that implementing VSD + “has been an excruciating decision for many. veterinarians involved in the process. “There is no doubt in my mind that deciding how to kill his healthy patients in unprecedented numbers has caused moral anguish for everyone involved. The impact on the mental health of fellow vets must be seen as Crisis One. Health Mental illness resulting from the brutality of our food system should be considered as such a threat as a zoonotic respiratory or gastrointestinal epidemic.
I, too, have suffered from anxiety and depression from living in a disconnected society that needs kindness to fellow human beings and to animals, while struggling to navigate a profession that lacks diversity and inclusion. . So I feel a lot of concern for the livestock vets who, in this case, had to balance their compassion for animals with their role in a system that prioritizes production efficiency and corporate profits.
The case study authors point out that “10% of swine vets thought about suicide and 23% said they needed mental health counseling.” This potential impact on our colleagues alone is reason enough for us to come together to ask the AVMA to reclassify VSD + as a ‘not recommended’ form of depopulation. Renowned animal behaviorist Temple Grandin and others have pointed out that if we prepare now, future use of VSD + is preventable.
Recommendations from Grandin and others in the animal welfare field include ensuring that government and corporate veterinary stocks include equipment for more humane depopulation methods, those that cause unconsciousness. instantaneous, such as bullets, captive bolts and mobile electrocution units; converting slaughterhouses to the production of whole carcasses rather than cuts of meat, which would require significantly fewer workers; and decreasing stocking densities to avoid the rapid emergence of serious animal welfare problems when supply chains are disrupted.
The authors of the study, rather than acknowledge that the emotional distress of swine vets stems from the trauma of supervising the VSD + itself, blame the vets for criticizing the technique. They say: “[W]We need to recognize that peer review can have unintended negative consequences for our colleagues. We need to rally with those involved, starting by acknowledging the stress and negative mental health effects experienced by many vets involved in these events. “
While I agree that we must support our colleagues with compassion, we must not hold back scientific discourse in the process. Open professional dialogue and transparency lead to scientific and ethical advances. I’m afraid that lack of transparency and silence of critical perspectives related to animal agriculture prevent progress and perpetuate systems of oppression in place that only benefits those in power.
The authors suggest that critical letters to the editor are inappropriate, stating that “criticism from friends, family and colleagues has a direct impact on the level of distress experienced by vets involved in difficult decision-making. The angst in this decision-making can be compounded when individuals are judged by those who lack understanding.
Understanding comes from open communication. None of the letter writers judged anyone; they only sought to increase understanding of the problem by critically appraising the study, reminding readers of the pig experience, and suggesting a different path in the future. The idea that professional investigation of published research should not continue for fear of causing more emotional distress is, intentionally or unintentionally, a limit to scientific progress.
I am a member of the founding committee of Vets against stopping ventilation and also part of Our Honor, a non-profit organization that hopes to spread compassion within our profession. October 26, Our Honor sent a letter to the AVMA and its Animal Depopulation Expert Group, which examines the science and data on depopulation methods, including VSD +. So far, we have not received a response. That’s why we published it as an open letter, to which other veterinarians and animal professionals have signed up. Please log in if you see fit.
Our profession should help livestock veterinarians to raise awareness of the impacts of this industry on mental health as well as the implications for animal welfare. We know that animals have rich emotional lives and that humans have a duty to protect conscious individuals at our mercy, especially since we are responsible for their creation. I hope our profession finds the courage and strength to speak out for the major changes that are needed in our food production systems.
Our profession’s reputation as caring animal advocates is on the line.
About the Author: Daniela Castillo was born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico. She graduated from her class in 2008 with a diploma in veterinary medicine from the Universidad Veracruzana. After completing a one-year internship at a government-funded zoo in Veracruz City, Dr Castillo earned a Masters in Wildlife Conservation at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. In 2011, she began volunteering at the St. Francis Wildlife Association, a wildlife rehabilitation center in Quincy, Florida, eventually becoming a Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator and Director of the organization. In 2016, Dr. Castillo became licensed to practice in California. Currently, she works as a shelter veterinarian for several non-profit organizations and has a mobile practice.