Help Stop the Inhumane Slaughter of Birds Used for Food

chickensAnimal Law Coalition supports vegetarianism/veganism, but if animals are to be slaughtered for food, that process should at least be as humane as possible.

The Department of Agriculture and segments of the farm industry seem to go out of their way to inflict cruelty on these poor farm animals. And the law is being used to suit their purposes.

In 1958 the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, 7 USCS § 1901-1906 went into effect. That Act, in effect, provides: No method of slaughtering or handling in connection with slaughtering shall be deemed to comply with the public policy of the United States unless it is humane.

Either of the following two methods of slaughtering and handling are hereby found to be humane: (a) in the case of cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock, all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut; or

(b) by slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument and handling in connection with such slaughtering. 7 USC §1902.

The problem is that chickens, turkeys and other birds are not considered to be livestock by the federal agency charged with enforcing this law, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Instead, these birds are called poultry. And, the word "poultry" does not appear in the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

Moreover, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, 21 USCS §§601, 603, livestock is limited to "cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules, or other equines". In 1978 Congress amended that act to require humane methods of slaughter in accordance with the 1958 law. The 1978 amendment left intact the 1958 law but created confusion as to the animals protected by the law.

Currently, there is virtually no protection for these birds from inhumane slaughter. Under the Poultry and Poultry Products Inspection Act, 21 USC § 453, a poultry product is deemed adulterated "if it is, in whole or in part, the product of any poultry which has died otherwise than by slaughter". 21 USC §453(g)(5) See also 9 CFR 381.90.

The only regulation that suggests the slaughter must be humane is found in 9 CFR 381.65(b) which requires "that poultry be slaughtered in accordance with good commercial practices, in a manner that results in thorough bleeding of the poultry carcass, and ensures that breathing has stopped before scalding so that the birds do not drown". See also Treatment of Live Poultry Before Slaughter, 70 Federal Register 56624

poultry slaughterhouseThe FSIS has announced that otherwise "there is no specific federal humane handling and slaughter statute for poultry". 70 Federal Register 56624. The concern of the FSIS is that handling and slaughter of the birds comport with "good commercial practices" to help ensure the food product is not adulterated. Id. The FSIS has said, as an example, producers should avoid bruising the birds to prevent adulteration of the product.

The suffering of the birds during, or for that matter, before slaughter, is simply not a consideration. Yet, these birds account for more than 90% of "livestock" slaughtered in the United States. There is no reason why birds should not be protected under the plain language of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

FSIS has noted that it has received several letters from members of Congress expressing concerns regarding the humane treatment of poultry and supporting legislation to include provisions for the humane treatment of poultry in the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The agency has received over 13,000 emails and thousands of letters from the public that also have insisted the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act protects poultry. It should be noted this is not to suggest the slaughter of other animals is actually humane as required by this simple, direct 1958 law. The FSIS has been directed to "develop and determine methods of slaughter and the handling of livestock in connection with slaughter which are practicable with reference to the speed and scope of slaughtering operations and humane with reference to other existing methods and then current scientific knowledge". 7 USC §1904. In other words, slaughter should be humane if it is expedient.

East Bay Animal Advocates, poultry consumers and others have brought a lawsuit challenging the USDA and FSIS refusal to apply what protections there are under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958.

According to the complaint filed in the case, in addition to the cruelty to the birds, methods of slaughter put consumers at increased risk from illness. Methods of slaughtering chickens, turkeys and other birds increase the risk they will become contaminated with fecal bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, and E. coli. Birds that are alive at the time of slaughter are likely to become contaminated with this dangerous bacteria. That is because they are sentient beings that inhale when they are in pain. The can inhale feces and bacteria when they are immersed alive in scalding water, for example. If they are unconscious or dead at the time of slaughter, there is no risk they will inhale this bacteria.

chickensNot to mention it is extremely cruel to treat living beings this way. Most state cruelty laws exempt agricultural practices. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act is the only way at this point to require poultry producers to treat these animals humanely during slaughter.

Recall the 2005 investigation of a Tyson plant in Alabama. The workers treated the chickens cruelly, but there was said to be no violation of the law because the USDA and FSIS do not believe birds are protected by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The same was true of cruelty uncovered at a Perdue poultry slaughter plant in Maryland in 2004. The USDA and FSIS found acceptable the slaughter of chickens at a Pilgrim’s Pride slaughterhouse in Moorefield, West Virginia by throwing them, slamming them into walls and allowing workers to jump up and down on them.

You can help put an end to this abominable cruelty.

Write or call United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and let him know chickens, turkeys and other birds are sentient beings that are covered by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Ask that the Food Safety and Inspection Service be required to assure poultry producers use humane methods in slaughtering these birds.

Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture U.S. Department of Agriculture 1400 Independence Ave., S.W. Washington, D.C. 20250 Phone: 202-720-3631