Washington DC“More than 1.6 million farm animals, including nearly 1.3 million caged hens, have perished in potentially preventable barn fires so far this year, says Animal Welfare Institute analysis (AWI) news articles published today. The 2020 tally of farm animal deaths from barn fires is the highest annual total since AWI began tracking barn fires in 2013 and is more than triple the number reported last year.
Since 2017, barn fires have claimed the lives of approximately 4 million farm animals in the United States; the vast majority were laying hens.
While these numbers are shocking, they do not represent the full extent of the tragedy. The number of fires and animal deaths in recent years is likely to exceed the totals reported by the media, as municipalities are generally not required to report barn fires and some companies refuse to release information to the public .
Currently, there are no US laws or regulations designed to protect farm animals from barn fires. While the cause of most fires is unknown, many are believed to be the result of improperly placed or faulty electrical malfunctions or heaters. In fact, two-thirds of barn fires this year have occurred during the colder months of winter and spring.
“It is totally unacceptable that the industry is tolerating massive numbers of animals burned alive when there are effective fire prevention and suppression strategies,” said Dena Jones, Farm Animal Program Director. at AWI.
Nebraska reported the highest number of animal deaths from barn fires this year (400,000 in three fires), followed by Michigan (300,000 in eight fires), California (280,000 deaths in five fires) and New Jersey (280,000 in a fire). Of the 87 barn fires tracked by AWI this year, New York reported the most (10), followed by Pennsylvania (nine).
The four chicken coop fires with the highest number of farm animal deaths (as reported by media) all involved caged-less hens, though less than 25 percent of all hens are cage-free:
- January 3: 300,000 cage-free hens at a Konos Inc. facility in Ostego Township, MI
- February 27: 400,000 cage-free hens at a Michael Foods facility in Bloomfield, NE
- April 23: 280,000 cage-free hens at a Gemperle Farms facility in Stanislaus County, California
- July 20: 280,000 cage-free hens at Red Bird Egg Farm in Pilesgrove, NJ (* 80,000 of these hens died in a nearby building that lost power during the fire)
AWI is studying the causes of recent large fires in egg production facilities. As producers increasingly switch to cage-free housing, Jones suspects that high levels of dust, either alone or in combination with litter, may be contributing to the number and severity of fires in cage-free poultry houses. Scientific research has documented dust levels up to nine times higher in cage-less housing than in cage-free housing.
“It seems unlikely that the outbreak of fires in barns without cages this year was just a coincidence,” Jones said. âWhile AWI strongly supports the elimination of cages for laying hens, we recognize that cage-free housing to minimum industry standards presents certain challenges to animal welfare, including poor environmental conditions. “
In addition to laying hens, chicken coop fires affect other farm animals, including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, broilers, ducks and turkeys. The animals are housed in a variety of locations, from small hobby farms to large commercial facilities. Birds are dying in such numbers because of factory farming practices that confine tens to hundreds of thousands of animals under one roof.
Earlier this year, AWI and more than 10,000 consumers asked the US Poultry & Egg Association to assess fire risks and the adequacy of fire prevention and suppression at poultry facilities in the United States. United. Association president John Starkey has yet to respond.
âIt is appalling that over a million caged hens have perished in barn fires this year,â Jones said. “AWI calls on the egg industry to address this issue as soon as possible so that the potential for improving well-being in cage-free housing can be realized.”
More information on barn fires and how to prevent them can be found on AWI’s website and in its full Barn Fires 2018 report.