Animals in Labs Article from

Canine Distemper Outbreak And Animal Welfare Violations By Marshall Farms Exposed

May 2023

Animal breeding company Marshall Farms is under fire for a canine distemper outbreak that infected 250,000 baby ferrets, prompting a complaint against the company for possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

ferret face

A canine distemper outbreak at a warehouse-operated animal-breeding company Marshall Farms infected 250,000 baby ferrets in 2022, according to disturbing documents obtained by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

PETA has filed a complaint calling for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate the company’s facilities—which are among the world’s largest breeders of dogs, cats, ferrets, pigs, and other animals for sale to laboratories—for possible violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

“Marshall Farms’ apparently sloppy practices put a quarter million animals at risk. And it reportedly shipped dying ferrets to pet stores and laboratories,” PETA vice president Dr. Alka Chandna said in a statement. “PETA is calling on federal officials to take action against the company before any more animals are sickened or neglected.”

Marshall Farms breeds and sells various animals to a number of well-known pet stores and laboratories across the country, including the National Institutes of Health, Cornell University, and Petco. One of their breeding facilities in North Rose, New York, houses an estimated 20,000 dogs.

The company reportedly transferred ferrets infected with canine distemper to numerous locations across the U.S. and Canada, according to a December 2022 report from the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians. Major pet store chains were among the recipients who reported the arrival of severely ill and dying animals.

As canine distemper can be transmitted through airborne exposure as well as through shared food and water bowls, the overcrowded conditions of animal breeding facilities create an ideal setting for the rapid and widespread transmission of the disease among animals. Ferrets suffering from this particular canine distemper virus can display symptoms of diarrhea, loss of appetite, discharge from the eyes and nose, open-mouth breathing, dehydration, fever, and death.

Reports prepared by Marshall Farms and obtained by PETA document that 20.6 percent to 92.2 percent of cats in the company’s breeding facilities have tested positive for the harmful and potentially deadly bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica, Pasteurellaccae, and group G β-hemolytic streptococci. Such unchecked transmission of bacteria - likely stemming in part from the close confinement of highly stressed animals - suggests serious violations of federal animal welfare regulations. Additional reports document that 60.4 percent of pigs in Marshall Farms’ breeding facilities have tested positive for porcine rotavirus, which can be fatal for piglets.

PETA has expressed uncertainty regarding the current status of the canine distemper outbreak, stating that it remains “unclear” whether it has been fully eradicated by Marshall Farms.

Repeated Animal Abuse

This is not the first time Marshall Farms has come under fire for animal welfare abuse.

PETA has called the CEO of Marshall Farms “one of the worst for animals in laboratories.” The operation has been cited for housing dogs and ferrets in filthy, decrepit wire cages in buildings teeming with mice and flies and failing to provide animals with adequate veterinary care. Although U.S. regulations require that cages holding dogs only be large enough to permit them to stand up, sit down, lie down, and turn around, Marshall Farms has failed to provide them with even that amount of space—and dogs have sustained injuries as a result.

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