Trump appointee DeJoy puts animal advocates, factory farmers, cockfighters, & captive bird-shooters all on the same side of the fence
WASHINGTON D.C.––Changes to U.S. Postal Service policy and practice implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, appointed in May 2020 by U.S. President Donald Trump, on August 21, 2020 improbably aligned animal advocates, factory-style poultry farmers, cockfighters, and even captive bird-shooters on the same side of an issue.
The alliance was momentary and transient. Vegan opponents of all animal agriculture who believe birds hatched into agribusiness should at least be treated humanely are hardly likely to march or protest alongside people who kill birds for fun.
Just the same, animal advocates and animal users alike applauded as Chellie Pingree, a Democrat representing Maine’s Second Congressional District, on August 21, 2020 led 23 fellow members of the House of Representatives in asking DeJoy and Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, to “investigate the recent deaths of thousands of mail-order chicks,” and to take “immediate action to rectify this issue.”
4,800 chicks mailed with 100% mortality
Explained Pingree, “We have heard alarming reports that recent shipments of live chicks via the U.S. Postal Service have been severely delayed or mishandled, resulting in significant mortality losses. For example, one hatchery recently reported that a shipment of 4,800 chicks arrived in New England with 100% mortality. We are deeply concerned that the recent issues with live chick deliveries may have been significantly exacerbated by recent changes that have led to mail delays and staffing challenges.”
DeJoy, until coming under Congressional pressure a few days earlier, was pushing full speed ahead with a scheme to remove 671 mail-sorting machines, amounting to about 10% of U.S. Postal Service sorting capacity, from mail processing centers throughout the U.S.
DeJoy also imposed steep cuts in allowable overtime working hours and ended the longstanding U.S. Postal Service policy of processing all mail either on the day received, for outgoing letters and parcels, or on the day received at a local post office, for deliverable items.
Summarized Associated Press, “Trump made clear last week that he was blocking $25 billion in emergency aid to the Postal Service, acknowledging he wanted to curtail election mail operations,” specifically distribution and receipt of mail-in ballots, “as well as a Democratic proposal to provide $3.6 billion in additional money to the states to help process mail-in ballots.”
Charged Pingree, “Mortality losses from delays and mishandling are not only hugely problematic from an animal welfare perspective, but have also taken an emotional toll on the recipients, many of whom are families building a backyard flock or children raising birds for 4-H or Future Farmers of America (FFA) projects.
“Substantial financial hardship”
“For these families,” Pingree said, “receiving chicks in the mail is a longstanding tradition, and with family farms in America already struggling to keep younger generations engaged and interested in agriculture, these negative experiences could significantly undermine those efforts.
“These recent issues have also caused substantial financial hardship for both farms and hatcheries,” Pingree continued, emphasizing her alliance with animal agriculture, as a member of both the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture, and the House Agriculture Committee.
“Hatcheries in multiple states have reported spending thousands of dollars to refund or replace orders for customers,” Pingree said. “The losses have been so significant that some growers have begun driving across state lines to transport chicks from the hatchery to the farm themselves, at significant personal expense.
“Were chicks considered?”
“These growers and small businesses have already been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pingree mentioned, “and cannot continue to shoulder this additional burden, particularly as they are largely ineligible for USDA COVID-19 relief programs.”
Pingree and her Congressional allies asked DeJoy specifically to explain how the changes he has introduced have “affected the safe and timely delivery of chicks?
“Given the special handling considerations for live animals,” Pingree pressed on, “were these shipments considered when implementing these new policies? If not, why not?
“Following the August 18 announcement that further changes to the U.S. Postal Service will be halted until November,” Pingree asked on, “will the U.S. Postal Service take any action to undo recent changes that may have negatively impacted the safe and timely delivery of chicks? If not, why not?”
Pingree further asked, “What guidance, if any, has the USDA provided to the U.S. Postal Service on proper handling of shipments containing chicks or other live animals?
“What training, if any, does the U.S. Postal Service provide to its workforce, including contractors, on proper handling of shipments containing chicks or other live animals?”
Pingree probably knew even before asking that the answer would likely be the sound of crickets, dead in transit along with the poultry with whom crickets are often shipped as potential prey, should the birds become hungry.
Pingree spoke two days after the Portland Press Herald reported that 800 chicks mailed to Pine Tree Poultry farmer Pauline Henderson, of New Sharon, Maine, from a hatchery in Pennsylvania, had all arrived dead.
“Usually,” Henderson said, “out of 100 birds you may have one or two who die in shipping.”
Added Associated Press, “Thousands of birds who moved through the Postal Service’s processing center in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, were also dead, impacting several farms in Maine and New Hampshire.”
“Gnats & rodents”
Simultaneous with publication of the Portland Press Herald and Associated Press exposés, Laura J. Nelson and Maya Lau of the Los Angeles Times reported that, “Inside a massive mail-sorting facility in South Los Angeles, workers fell so far behind processing packages that by early August, gnats and rodents were swarming around containers of rotted fruit and meat, and baby chicks were dead inside their boxes.
“The delays [occasioned by DeJoy’s changes] were particularly tragic for live animals, including baby chickens and crickets,” Nelson and Lau specified.
The U.S. Postal Service has transported live poultry since 1918.
Postal regulation 526, “Mailable Live Animals,” explains that “The following live, day–old animals are acceptable for mailing when properly packaged: chickens, ducks, emus, geese, guinea birds, partridges, pheasants (only during April through August), quail, and turkeys. All other types of live, day–old poultry are non-mailable.”
Postal regulation 526 goes on to detail exactly how live birds and other “mailable” animals are to be handled, and when.
“A small window of time to send birds”
“There is a four-hour time limit on the amount of time day-old poultry can sit in a regular, closed postal service vehicle, although there is no limit on the amount of time that can be spent at a holding center,” CentralMaine.com staff writer Rachel Ohm noted in a March 16, 2014 article describing the deaths of 25 baby chicks whom Mercer, Maine farmer Dan Charles received days late from Moyer’s Chicks in Quakertown, Pennsylvania.
“Leon Moyer, owner of Moyer’s, said the company takes every precaution possible to ensure that chickens arrive safely and healthy,” Ohm wrote. “The company sends about 1.3 million chickens all over the world each year, including to Europe and Africa, he said.
“He estimated that between one and two percent don’t survive, which amounts to 13,000 to 26,000 chickens,” Ohm added.
Richard Brzozowski, a poultry specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and education advisor for the Maine Poultry Growers Association, told Ohm that “Baby chicks can live up to 72 hours without food or water after hatching,” explaining that “The yolk part of a chicken egg has enough nutrients to sustain the young birds for a few days. That gives shippers and the postal system a small window of time to send the birds.”
2006 Zacky Farms case
Live poultry transport via the U.S. Postal Service has nonetheless long been an issue of humane concern, especially since the advocacy organization United Poultry Concerns, founded in 1990 by author Karen Davis, began frequently decrying the practice.
In 2006 the Peninsula Humane Society, of San Mateo, California, unsuccessfully sought cruelty charges against Northwest Airlines and also investigated pursuing cruelty cases against the Fresno turkey hatchery Zacky Farms and Air Canada, over a chick delivery that went badly wrong.
Had the case been successfully prosecuted, it could have been a turning point.
The U.S. Postal Service was not directly named in the 2006 incident, but Northwest Airlines was believed to be at the time the leading transporter of live poultry for the postal service.
Left their birds in San Francisco
“Hybrid Turkeys, a commercial breeder in Canada, shipped 11,520 turkey chicks on Northwest from Detroit,” explained Hong Dao Nguyen of the San Jose Mercury News. “The chicks, a few weeks old, were to be picked up at the San Francisco airport by Zacky Farms.”
“Hybrid instructed Northwest to divide the birds between two flights to California,” Peninsula Humane Society spokesperson Scott Delucchi told Nguyen. “Instead, Northwest stuffed all 144 boxes of fowl onto one four-and-a-half-hour flight,” leaving more birds competing for oxygen in the airliner hold.
“Nearly 2,000 chicks made it to Fresno,” Nguyen continued, “but a day later,” on July 14, 2006, “Northwest called Peninsula Humane to pick up 168 others who were left at the airport. All but 40 of them died.
Gambled against the sun in Las Vegas
“Less than a week later, Hybrid shipped 9,360 chicks to San Francisco, this time via three Air Canada flights,” Nguyen reported. “When one plane made a pit stop in Las Vegas, the chicks were unloaded in 108-degree heat.”
“Zacky Farms left boxes containing an estimated 3,240 dead and dying birds at the San Francisco airport,” said a Farm Sanctuary media release, picking up the account.
“By the time the Peninsula Humane Society arrived, Northwest Airlines cargo workers had already thrown 26 of the 28 boxes into a trash compactor. In the two remaining boxes, investigators found 22 of 62 chicks still alive. Sadly, however, all but one died.”
The Farm Sanctuary facility at Orlands, California, took in 11 of the turkeys who survived the earlier incident.
Zacky Farms in 2007 lost 57,000 turkeys to a heat wave, in 2012 went through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and in 2019 was subsumed by Foster Farms.
Airlines forced to continue hauling birds for post office
“Such deaths are routine but seldom publicized,” United Poultry Concerns founder Karen Davis told media. “Newborn birds are shipped by the U.S. Postal Service and the airlines as ‘perishable matter’ and treated like luggage. Millions of baby birds are delivered dead and dying each year,” Davis charged, “and postal workers who find boxes of suffering birds are forbidden by law from intervening. Northwest Airlines announced in 2001 that it would no longer carry chicks as mail, but the hatcheries persuaded Congress to force airlines,” including Northwest Airlines, to continue.
Northwest had stopped hauling chicks for the U.S. Postal Service after the postal service refused to triple the payment per pound of chicks carried from 31¢ to 93¢, to cover increased fuel and security costs.
U.S. Postal Service handles birds at a loss
Ironically, companies mailing live birds still pay a base rate of just 20¢ per pound.
American Airlines, Federal Express, United Airlines, and the United Parcel Service had already stopped hauling chicks when Northwest Airlines briefly quit, leaving Delta, U.S. Airways, and Continental as the only airlines that still flew live chicks for the Postal Service before Congress compelled the others to resume.
Federal legislation passed in mid-2000 requiring airlines to report all instances of animal loss, injury, or death in transit had already caused major airlines to seek ways to get out of the high-risk, low-return live animal traffic, even before the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001 required costly additional security measures.
While Representative Pingree on August 21, 2020 focused her concerns on transport of newly hatched hens via the U.S. Postal Service, other major users of the postal service for bird delivery include operators of pheasant and quail shooting venues, and cockfighters.
Breeders mail gamecocks to Guam
Animal Wellness Action and Animal Wellness Foundation president Wayne Pacelle, who headed the Humane Society of the U.S. from 2004 to 2018, on January 7, 2020 spotlighted the use of the U.S. Postal Service by gamefowl breeders sending fighting cocks to Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean,
According to “avian shipping records formally obtained from Guam’s Department of Agriculture,” Pacelle said, “cockfighters from the U.S. mainland made more than 500 illegal transports of fighting birds to customers on Guam,” sending “nearly 9,000 birds to Guam in a 33-month period – translating into an illegal shipment, on average, every other day.
“There were 71 people who exported cockfighting roosters to Guam during this period,” Pacelle elaborated, “with shippers from Oklahoma, California, Hawaii, North Carolina, and Alabama accounting for 75% of the 8,800 birds sent to Guam. The top five individual shippers accounted for 52% of all shipments.
“We found that cockfighters were using the U.S. Postal Service for the transports, even though the Animal Welfare Act specifically prohibits the service from doing this work,” Pacelle said. “Some shippers are sending more than 100 cocks for every hen,” Pacelle noted, “and in nearly every case, the ratios are extraordinarily lopsided to favor the males. In a standard agricultural operation receiving birds for production, the ratios would be inverted, with more females used for breeding and egg production.”