MEDIA RELEASE: Activists Confront USDA Official Demanding Change to Controversial Bird Flu Bailout

MEDIA RELEASE: Activists Confront USDA Official Demanding Change to Controversial Bird Flu Bailout

SAN FRANCISCO (March 19, 2024) — On Monday, March 18, activists from Free from Harm and In Defense of Animals publicly confronted USDA acting Deputy Administrator Jeffrey Silverstein at the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit to demand an end to the USDA’s disastrous bird flu bailout. 

The activists crashed the event at the Marriott Marquis hotel with an amplified speak-out, and then displayed signs bearing the bottom line message: STOP BILLION $$ BIRD FLU BAILOUTS.

One activist interrupted a session featuring Silverstein in a ballroom full of Big Ag summit attendees. The USDA official was confronted about using taxpayer funds to bail out an industry that inevitably produces dangerous avian viruses from its crowded, cramped, and filthy conditions. 

Using taxpayer funds, Silverstein plans to continue killing millions more chickens as they contract avian flu in unsanitary, crowded factory farms, despite being dosed with massive amounts of antibiotics. These viruses can spill over into wild bird populations and even mutate to cross over into human populations — which could make Covid seem like a warm-up act.

The USDA has already surpassed an unprecedented $1,000,000,000 to bailout the chicken and egg industries. Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars are being used to kill millions of birds whether they’re healthy or sick, dump the dead in mass graves, purchase millions of new chicks from hatcheries, and douse factory farms with gallons of toxic chemicals. Animal defenders contest that taxpayer funds should instead be used to develop humane, safe and sustainable plant-based foods.

Over 82 million birds have been exterminated so far by the USDA to protect chicken and egg industry profits. Sensitive birds are being killed in terrifying mass slaughters using highly controversial measures. Hens have been sprayed with a suffocating foam so they choke to death in a blinding mass panic in one method. Another method essentially locks birds in a sauna using ventilation shutdown or ventilation shutdown plus, which causes an agonizing death that can take hours through heatstroke, internal organ failure or suffocation.

Intensively farming birds has created the perfect environment for the mutation and spread of the highly pathogenic H5N1, which is spread through contaminated feces or respiratory droplets. Experts warn that bird flu rapidly mutates and could trigger a lethal pandemic, worse than Covid-19, among humans. 

Meanwhile, chicken and egg industry lobbyists have been so successful at getting Congress to pass legislation that financially benefits them, that a group of powerful senators have formed the Senate Chicken Caucus. The caucus conducts private meetings, closed to the public, to hatch pro-industry bills paid for by the public.

“This level of special interest corruption is astonishing. Our efforts to hold Congress and USDA Secretary Vilsack accountable for this dangerous, public-threatening bird flu policy is making waves! We are proactively changing the narrative at some of Vilsak’s key speaking and media events, such as the recent 100th annual USDA Agriculture Outlook Forum,” explains Robert Grillo of Free from Harm

“It’s absurd that the USDA is propping up an industry that causes unimaginable suffering to birds, and poses a serious health threat that could spill over into wild animals — and humans!” said Jack Gescheidt of In Defense of Animals. “We have to call out and stop this huge waste of taxpayer dollars that should instead be spent on safer, more sustainable plant-based foods.”

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Free from Harm is a non-profit dedicated to advancing a plant based food system and challenging the dominance of animal agriculture through bold and innovative grassroots action. Visit us online at 

In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization based in California with over 250,000 supporters and a 40-year history of fighting for animals, people, and the environment through education and campaigns, as well as hands-on rescue facilities in India, South Korea, rural Mississippi, and California.


Robert Grillo, 773-329-7977,

Jack Gescheidt, 415-488-4200 (no texts),

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