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2 million chickens to be killed because of lack of employees at processing plants

(CNN) — Two million chickens on several farms in Delaware and Maryland will be “depopulated” — meaning humanely killed — due to a lack of employees at chicken processing plants, according to a statement from Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.

The reduced employee attendance at the company’s plants is a result of “additional community cases of COVID-19, additional testing, and people practicing the ‘stay home if you’re sick’ social distancing guidance from public health officials,” the statement reads.

The chickens will be depopulated “using approved, humane methods” that are accepted by the American Veterinary Medical Association and all state and local guidelines, the company said.

CNN has reached out to the Delaware Department of Agriculture but has not yet received a response.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture says it learned of the company’s plans on April 9 and “continues to monitor for any developments.”

“MDA is only involved in depopulations when it is done in response to animal health concerns,” the department said in a statement. “This particular case was a private decision made by an individual business.”

Delmarva says it made the “difficult but necessary” decision after exhausting “the study of other alternatives, including allowing another chicken company to transport and process the chickens and taking a partially processed product to rendering facilities to utilize for other animal feed.”

“If no action were taken, the birds would outgrow the capacity of the chicken house to hold them,” the company said, adding that they are not closing any processing plants and will continue to compensate the affected chicken growers.