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Egg-laying facility in Iowa kills 5.3 million chickens, fires 200-plus workers

Animal rights activists are up in arms over reports that a chicken farm in Iowa killed more than five million birds, after detecting a case of avian influenza, in what activists say was a gruesome culling method. The factory farm later dismissed the more than 200 workers it had tasked with slaughtering the hens, according to a report from The Guardian

Rembrandt Farms, where the mass slaughter took place in March, is owned by billionaire Glen Taylor, one of the wealthiest Iowans, and an owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Last month, protesters from Direct Action Everywhere, an animal rights advocacy group, stormed the court at home games wearing T-shirts reading, "Glen Taylor Roasts Animals Alive." 

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship in March announced that it had confirmed a case of avian influenza in "a flock of commercial layer chickens" in Buena Vista County, where Rembrandt Farms is located.

Zoe Rosenberg, a protester, alleged that the farm created an environment that made it easy for disease to spread. 

"I don't think any farm should have that many birds to begin with," she told CBS MoneyWatch. 

The Storm Lake Times detailed the Ventilation Shutdown Plus method by which the birds were killed. The system shuts off barn ventilation, temperatures rise above 104 degrees and the birds die slowly, by suffocation. 

Rosenberg described the method by which the hens were killed as "horrifying." 

"They were essentially roasted alive. They were cooked from the inside out," she said. "Glen Taylor is a billionaire, yet he chose the cheapest option to kill these birds in a very cruel way."

Workers dismissed

The enterprise then summarily dismissed more than 200 workers. 

"The workers were let go immediately after they performed ventilation shutdown and finished disposing of the bodies of these chickens. Working on a factory farm is not easy," Rosenberg added. 

Oscar Garcia, a former plant supervisor, told the Guardian that workers were poorly treated. 

"People worked in those barns pulling out dead birds in terrible conditions, feces everywhere, doing 12 to 14 hour days," he said. "They couldn't protest because then they'd be fired and lose their redundancy pay. Then they're thrown out of work and no one speaks for them."

Rembrandts Farms did not immediately reply to CBS MoneyWatch's request for comment. 

The culling at Rembrandt comes amid a spread of bird flu in the U.S. that has farms grappling with ways to quickly kill and dispose of millions of chickens and turkeys to limit the spread of disease.

More than 24 million birds have been killed in the past two months an effort to contain outbreaks. It is the biggest outbreak of bird flu since 2015, when producers killed more than 50 million chickens and turkeys.

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