Conspiracy Theory Brewing Over Chicken Farm Fires Is False, Experts Say
First it was fires in food processing facilities. Now, a seemingly growing number of people are claiming there’s something suspicious about fires occurring at chicken farms across the United States.
“Good morning to everyone except the evil demons purposely screwing with the food supply,” an influential Twitter user who goes by the name Catturd tweeted on January 31. The tweet received more than 22,000 likes and more than 2,000 retweets.
Good morning to everyone except the evil demons purposely screwing with the food supply.— Catturd ™ (@catturd2) January 31, 2023
In an attempt to provide proof that something nefarious is afoot, people like Catturd—who has 1.3 million followers on the popular social media website—have pointed to incidents like a fire that killed 100,000 chickens at a farm in Connecticut on January 28 and a fire in December that killed 250,000 chickens at a farm in Pennsylvania. The fires, these people allege, are most likely a government attempt at disrupting the food supply, leading to situations like the soaring egg prices that have gouged consumers’ wallets in recent months.
Similar claims were made last spring, as many people, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, purported that a string of fires that had occurred in food processing facilities was suspicious. That conspiracy theory was debunked by NFPA® and others.
Experts say the high egg prices American consumers are seeing today are in reality a result of many factors, such as widespread avian flu and inflation. In other words, they have nothing to do with fires at chicken farms. Furthermore, experts say that, in general, these types of fires should not be seen as anything out of the ordinary. Fires at livestock and poultry production and storage properties are quite common and have been for years. NFPA also offers solutions to the problem.
The numbers don’t lie
According to data included in a recent Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) report on fires in animal housing facilities, an estimated average of 930 fires occurred annually in livestock or poultry storage properties—which include spaces like barns, stockyards, and animal pens—in the US from 2014 to 2018. An additional average of 750 fires occurred annually in livestock production properties. Combined, that’s more than four fires on average each day.
And these blazes can be exceptionally deadly for the animals housed there. The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), an American nonprofit that supports animal rights, tracks barn fires in particular, and from 2013 to 2017, the AWI reports that more than 325 barn fires occurred in the US, killing nearly 2.8 million animals. Ninety-five percent of the animals killed were chickens.
“When we see fires occurring at poultry storage facilities or at barns, we’re not really seeing anything out of the ordinary,” said Birgitte Messerschmidt, director of the NFPA Research division. “It’s just the opposite, actually. It’s simply the continuation of what we in the world of fire safety and fire statistics have been seeing play out for years.”
“A lot of hazards can exist at livestock and poultry storage and production facilities, so it’s not unusual to see fires occur in these properties,” added Jacqueline Wilmot, a project manager with the FPRF, the research affiliate of NFPA.
Risks & resources
According to the FPRF report, heating equipment is the number one cause of fires in animal housing facilities, with malfunctioning electrical systems coming in at a close second. The lack of smoke alarms and fire sprinklers as well as an abundance of fuel such as hay or straw at many of these locations all work to heighten the fire risk.
One important resource that exists to help limit the number of these fires is NFPA 150, Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities Code. Although NFPA 150 has existed in some form since 1979, it wasn’t until 2006 that the scope of the code was expanded beyond racehorse stables. (Read more about NFPA 150 and its origins in “Critter Life Safety Code,” the cover story of the November/December 2018 issue of NFPA Journal.)
Even today, widespread awareness and use of NFPA 150 is lacking. The recent foundation report found that in a survey of 71 individuals who in some way represent the animal housing industry, roughly 60 percent of them had no familiarity with the code. According to NFPA’s CodeFinder® tool, only two states in the US reference NFPA 150, Delaware and Nevada.
An opportunity exists “to create training outreach programs and other fire protection training to better educate animal housing facility owners and staff,” the report says.
In addition to NFPA 150, NFPA also offers a number of barn fire safety tips aimed at consumers, which can be found for free online at nfpa.org/farms.
Amid reports that people are rushing to buy their own chickens in the face of high egg prices, stay tuned for another NFPA blog next week that will provide safety tips for anyone looking to build a chicken coop in their backyard.