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Around 2 million animals in the U.S. have been culled after slaughterhouses were forced to shut, according to various organizations.

More than 20 of the country’s abattoirs were shuttered after numerous workers were infected with COVID-19 – according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, there were 4,135 positive reported cases linked to meatpacking facilities, covering 75 facilities in 25 states.

In addition, at least 18 workers have been reported to have died, covering nine plants. These numbers are accurate up until April 27.

Executive orders

After meat giant Tyson warned of nationwide meat shortages as a result of slaughterhouses being shut, U.S. president Donald Trump issued an executive order to keep the facilities open.

After issuing the order, the president told reporters that the slaughterhouses closed because of ‘sort of a legal roadblock more than anything else’ adding that the order solves ‘liability problems’.

In the meantime, more animals are facing being culled – or ‘depopulated’ – via methods animal advocates have described as ‘agonizing’.

‘Just-in-time inventory system’

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has complained that this situation means pig farmers are losing money – ‘nearly $37 per hog’.

NPPC president Howard ‘A.V.’ Roth said: “We are taking on water fast. Immediate action is imperative, or a lot of hog farms will go under.

“The pork industry is based on a just-in-time inventory system. Hogs are backing up on farms with nowhere to go, leaving farmers with tragic choices to make. Dairy producers can dump milk. Fruit and vegetable growers can dump produce. But, hog farmers have nowhere to move their hogs.”

Depopulation

But according to Mercy for Animals, the situation is not just a financial one, but an ethical one. A blog post by the organization said: “Approved methods for mass depopulation outlined by the American Veterinary Medical Association include a variety of agonizing techniques, such as water-based foaming, which has been used to kill entire populations during avian flu outbreaks.

“Water-based foaming involves covering the birds with a layer of foam that blocks their airways, suffocating them. Research demonstrates that chickens take anywhere from one to four and a half minutes to die after they are covered.”

Mercy for Animals president Leah Garcés told the Guardian that chickens are at highest risk of depopulation followed by piglets, saying: “Chickens are bred for speedy growth and are meant to be slaughtered at between 42 and 47 days. After that, they die.”