Emu farming sparks protest in Carroll Activists say birds slaughtered inhumanely

breeders defend industry

April 21, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

MOUNT AIRY -- A long-legged, long-necked emu snuggled up to Diana Beuchert yesterday as she stroked its soft feathers and called it one of her "babies."

But if no one buys the year-old wingless native Australian bird as half of a breeding pair, it could go off to a slaughterhouse and processed for its low-fat red meat; tough, supple hide; downy-soft feathers; and oil.

"That's what I'm raising them for," said Mrs. Beuchert at her 14-acre Carroll Country farm, where she has more than 100 emus from a few weeks to 3 years old. U.S. emu breeders are trying to create a market demand for emu meat and byproducts, she said.

But the fledgling industry is encountering some strong opposition.

At a shopping center a few miles away, Karen Davis and two dozen cohorts from United Poultry Concerns were protesting emu farming, waving signs and charging that the birds are slaughtered inhumanely. Emus are wildlife that should not be commercial livestock, even though the Department of Agriculture granted that status last year, they argue.

Emu breeding is a "scam," declared Frank Branchini, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Anne Arundel County, who joined yesterday's protest. "There's no market for emu, and no demand for it," Mr. Branchini said. "People are breeding them to sell to other people. It's commercial exploitation of wildlife, another degradation of the environment."

Mrs. Beuchert, 36, and Ms. Davis, 52, confronted each other shortly after the group set up with their signs, banner and educational literature. Mrs. Beuchert introduced herself to Ms. Davis using the name Beth Samuels, but Ms. Davis said later that she guessed her identity.

To Mrs. Beuchert, Ms. Davis argued that the birds are defeathered while still alive and only given enough of an electric shock to paralyze them -- not "stun" them so they will feel no pain.

While admitting that she had not been to a slaughterhouse where emus are processed, Ms. Davis said, "But we have plenty of information" and related horror stories of the birds being electrically immobilized while their throats are cut.

Mrs. Beuchert said the U.S. emu industry is at the same point as the turkey industry was in 1929, particularly in terms of the expense of breeding pairs, which cost several thousand dollars. A good emu pair can produce 30 to 40 chicks a year, she said.

As she walked away, Mrs. Beuchert said she has not yet sent any birds to market and did not know how they would be killed or when they would be defeathered. She said a poultry processor in the area probably will be accepting emus sometime this summer.

Later, after telephone calls to other emu breeders and a poultry processor, Mrs. Beuchert said the birds are decapitated and the de-feathering takes place after they are killed.

Ms. Davis said she taught English at the University of Maryland for 12 years before becoming a full-time poultry advocate and founding UPC in 1990 out of concern for the way domestic poultry -- chickens, turkeys and ducks -- are raised and processed.

In 1993, after an inquiry from a British animal-welfare group, she collected information on emu farming and added opposition to "turning emus into an agricultural animal" to her activism.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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