Staffing Shortage Leaves 2M Chickens to be Killed

Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. said several of its members will need to "depopulate' the chickens that can't be harvested fast enough.

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A statement from Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. (DPI) — an 1,800-member trade association — said that about 2 million chickens will be killed instead of processed as a result of supply chain bottlenecks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement said several of its member farms in Delaware and Maryland will destroy the excess chickens due to a lack of employees at chicken processing plants, with the reduced staffing a result of additional community cases of COVID-19 and other safety guidelines.

“With reduced staffing, many plants are not able to harvest chickens at the pace they planned for when placing those chicks in chicken houses several weeks ago,” DPI said, referring to before social distancing measures went into effect.

Delmarva said the chickens will be “depopulated” using approved, humane methods accepted by the American Veterinary Medical Association and all state and local guidelines.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture said in a statement that it learned of Delmarva’s chicken disposal plans on April 9 and that it is continuing to monitor any developments. The agency added that it is only involved in depopulations when they are done in response to animal health concerns, whereas the Delmarva case was a private decision made by an individual business.

Delmarva’s statement said the decision was difficult, but necessary after it exhausted other alternatives, including allowing another poultry producer to transport and process the chickens and then taking a partially-processed product to rendering facilities.

The trade association said it is not closing any processing plants and will compensate affected chicken growers.

“If no action were taken, the birds would outgrow the capacity of the chicken house to hold them,” Delmarva said.

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