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 

Illinois Law Bans Felons From Owning Unspayed/Unneutered or Vicious Dogs

Illinois passed a law effective January 1, 2007 that bars certain felons from “knowingly own[ing], possess[ing], hav[ing] custody of, or resid[ing] in a residence with”, “unspayed or unneutered dog or puppy older than 12 weeks of age” or “any dog that has been determined to be a vicious dog” under the State’s new dangerous or vicious dog law. §720 ILCS 5/12-36

"Vicious dog" means a dog that, without justification, attacks a person and causes serious physical injury or death, or any dog that has been found to be a "dangerous dog" upon 3 separate occasions. §510 ILCS 5/2.19b

"Dangerous dog" describes a dog that is loose and “poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to a person or a companion animal”. A dangerous dog is also a dog that “without justification, bites a person and does not cause serious physical injury”. § 510 ILCS 5/2.05a.

The law applies for 10 years from the release from prison or jail to anyone convicted of felonies including cruelty to animals and drug crimes.

It certainly cannot hurt to ban these felons from owning unspayed/unneutered or vicious dogs. Dogs that are not spayed/neutered tend to be more aggressive. In fact, 91% of fatal dog attacks involve dogs that have not been spayed/neutered. Research cited in a 2000 Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association  study indicated unsterilized dogs are 2.6 times more likely to bite.

Thus, the spay/neuter provisions, in particular, may have some effect on the ability of gangs and other criminals to fight dogs or at least breed or train them for fighting. Chicago police have reported a dramatic increase in dog fighting. Dog fighting is now a favored form of gambling by gangs.

The new law’s effectiveness will depend on enforcement against gangs and other dogfighters. The standard to be declared a “vicious dog” under Illinois law is high, though. It is unlikely a dog owned by a dogfighter or drug dealer will be declared dangerous 3 times. The risk of keeping such a dog would be too high. Nonetheless, the law may affect the ability of many to keep “mean” dogs as status symbols.

It is no secret that having a “mean” dog has become a status symbol with some young men. The hip hop culture has certainly promoted the image of a “mean” dog as desirable. Interestingly, a just released study suggests people with “vicious” or aggressive dogs tend to have engaged in some illegal activity. Moreover, those owners with vicious dogs who had been cited for failure to register or keep the dog confined on the premises are more than 9 times likely to have been convicted of a crime involving a child, 8 times more likely to have been convicted of drug crimes, and 3 times more likely to have been convicted of a domestic violence crime. These owners were compared with people with less aggressive dogs that have been licensed.

The study involved researchers from the University of Cincinnati and was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Illinois, at least, has started the process of trying to save dogs from the cruelty of felons intent on using them for fighting or symbols of a violent counterculture.

by Laura Allen for the Animal Law Coalition

In Four States Animal Cruelty is NOT a Felony No Matter the Circumstances

CatAnimal cruelty results in little real consequence in these states. 

In Idaho animal cruelty is also a misdemeanor. Idaho Code §25-3502, §25-3504, §25-3505, §25-3510-3511, §25-3518. For a first conviction, a person can be fined no more than $5,000 and jailed for 6 months. § 25-3520A

For a second conviction within 10 years of the first one, a person still cannot be fined more than $7000 and jailed for more than 9 months. And, for any person convicted on a third or subsequent violation, within fifteen (15) years of the first, they can be sentenced to no more than 1 year in jail and a fine of $9000.

It should be noted the punishment for poisoning of animals "shall not exceed three (3) years, or in the county jail not exceeding one (1) year, and a fine not less than one hundred dollars ($ 100) or more than five thousand dollars ($ 5000)." §25-3503.

The animals involved may be seized with a bonding requirement and forfeiture hearing to follow upon probable cause to believe there has been a violation of the animal cruelty laws. The animals may eventually be awarded to a humane organization. § 25-3520A-B Note that for other property, under Idaho Code § 18-7001 a person who destroys the property of another, can be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one (1) year or a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($ 1,000), or both. It does not matter if it was the first or second offense.

Moreover, if a person destroys the property of another that has a value in excess of $1000, he is subject to punishment of imprisonment in the state prison for not less than one (1) year nor more than five (5) years, and may be fined not more than one thousand dollars ($ 1,000), or by both such fine and imprisonment.

The Idaho law provides more protection from damage to a flat screen TV than a dog or cat. Visit this link to contact Idaho legislators and let them know it’s time to make animal cruelty a felony. 

CatIn Mississippi under Miss. Code §§97-41-1, 97-41-2, 97-41-5, 97-41-7, 97-41-9, 97-41-16 animal cruelty is a misdemeanor with fines up to $1000 and 6 months in jail. Miss. Code §99-19-31

In fact, until 2006 cats were not included in §97-41-16, the crime of malicious or mischievous injury to dogs. Now such injury to cats, as well as dogs, is illegal but, again, is only a misdemeanor. §97-41-16, Under Miss. Code §97-41-16, a judge can also order restitution for veterinary bills and the market value of the animal.

Poisoning of animals in Mississippi is punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary not exceeding three years, or in the county jail not exceeding one year, and by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars. Miss. Code §97-41-17

In Mississippi it is a felony with a possible penalty of $5000 or 5 years in prison or both to kill or injure a public service animal. §97-41-23.

Visit these links to contact Mississippi legislators and let them know it’s time to make animal cruelty a felony.

In North Dakota animal cruelty is a Class A misdemeanor. N.D. Cent. Code, § 36-21.1-11. See N.D. Cent. Code, § 36-21.1-01 et seq. including N.D. Cent. Code, § 36-21.1-02, regarding acts of cruelty and N.D. Cent. Code, § 36-21.1-03, cruelty in transportation. The maximum penalty is a fine of $2000 or one year imprisonment or both. N.D. Cent. Code §12.1-32-01

Visit this link to contact North Dakota legislators and let them know it’s time to make animal cruelty a felony.

In South Dakota, too, it is no more than a misdemeanor to abuse, poison or kill an animal of another or inhumanely treat one’s own animal. S. Dakota Code §40-1-20 (poison animal of another) § 40-1-21 (kill or injure animal of another) §40-1-27 (inhumane treatment). The most punishment an abuser faces is a $2000 fine and one year in jail. §22-6-2. Abuse of a service animal in South Dakota merits no more than thirty days imprisonment in a county jail or five hundred dollars fine, or both. §22-6-2.

Visit this link to contact South Dakota legislators and let them know it’s time to make animal cruelty a felony. 

by Laura Allen for Animal Law Coalition

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Shuts Down Horse Slaughter in Texas

It was a federal appellate court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, that shut down the two horse slaughterhouses located in Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined a petition to hear an appeal.

The Fifth Circuit ruled a 1949 Texas law, Texas Agriculture Code §§ 149.001-.007, is enforceable and can be used to shut down two horse slaughterhouses operating in that state.

In a tribute to these majestic animals, the court noted that "the horse on the Texas trail is a cinematic icon" and "not once in memory did the cowboy eat his horse."

At the beginning of this year there were three horse slaughterhouses in the United States. Two of those, operated by Beltex Corporation and Dallas Crown, Inc., were in Texas. Beltex owns a controlling interest in a third slaughterhouse, Empacadora de Carnes de Fresnillo, that operates in Mexico. The Mexican slaughterhouse sells and transfers its horsemeat to Beltex’ Texas operation, which then sells it abroad.

A third U.S. horse slaughter house operated by Cavel International, Inc. was in Illinois.

Since the mid-1970s these companies slaughtered horses and sold their meat for human consumption. The U.S. horse slaughter industry was a $60-million a year business. In its opinion the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals noted, "[A] substantial majority of the horsemeat is sold and shipped abroad for human consumption. None of the meat is sold domestically for human consumption." Some of the meat is sold to U.S. zoos or used in fertilizer.

In 2002 the Texas Attorney General issued an opinion that the 1949 Texas law "prohibits the processing, sale or transfer of horsemeat for human consumption." The Attorney General concluded the law was applicable to the slaughterhouses in Texas.

The horse slaughterhouse operators then filed a lawsuit in a Texas federal district court, requesting an injunction to stop enforcement of the law. The federal district court agreed and issued an injunction preventing the Texas authorities from enforcing the state law.

The horse slaughterhouses continued to operate while the state of Texas appealed the case. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports in 2006 alone 100,800 American horses were slaughtered in the three slaughter houses in the United States. 

USDA statistics reveal more than 92% of horses slaughtered in the U.S. are in good shape, not old and sick as opponents claim. Nearly 70 percent of Americans are strongly against the slaughter of American horses for human consumption overseas.

On Friday, January 17, 2007, the appeals court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, reversed the lower federal court.

Texas can now enforce its law that bans any person from "sell[ing], offer[ing] for sale, or exhibit[ing] for sale horsemeat as food for human consumption" or "possess[ing] horsemeat with the intent to sell the horsemeat as food for human consumption." Tx. Agric. Code §149.002. It is also an offense to transfer horsemeat to a person one knows or should know intends to do those prohibited activities. Id. at §149.003.

This opinion has effectively stopped horse slaughter for human consumption in Texas. This opinion by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has also helped mobilize efforts to pass a federal prohibition on horse slaughter now pending.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in essence, rejected the argument by the slaughterhouses that the state anti-horse slaughter law had been repealed by another law, the Texas Meat and Poultry Inspection Act, Tx. Health & Safety Code §a433.033. The Court found the latter statute never legalized sale or slaughtering of horses for human consumption. Instead, "it simply regulate[s] the sale and transport of horse products." Also, the Texas anti-horse slaughter law was codified later.

The Court further rejected the horse slaughterhouses’ argument that a federal law, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, 21 U.S.C. § 601, et seq., preempts the Texas anti-horse slaughter law. The Court was adamant, "We can find no indication that Congress intended to prevent states from regulating the types of meat that can be sold for human consumption." The Court found the FMIA had a limited reach and was not inconsistent with the state law.

In fact, other states have banned the sale or transfer of horses for human consumption. See California Penal Code § 598c ("unlawful for any person to possess, to import into or export from the state, or to sell, buy, give away, hold, or accept any horse with the intent of killing, or having another kill, that horse, if that person knows or should have known that any part of that horse will be used for human consumption"); Mississippi Code § 75-33-3 ("The term ‘food unfit for human consumption’ shall be construed to include meat and meat-food products of horses and mules."); 63 Oklahoma Stat. §1-1136 ("It shall be unlawful for any person to sell, offer or exhibit for sale . . . any quantity of horsemeat for human consumption.")

(Since this opinion was issued, Illinois has banned the slaughter of horses for human consumption.)

The Fifth Circuit also found there was no violation of the dormant commerce clause. The Court believes this anti-horse slaughter statute is the best way to advance Texas’ interests in preserving horses, preventing people from eating horse meat, and stopping horse theft.

A complete copy of the Court’s opinion can be found in Animal Law Coalition’s Dowloads.

By Laura Allen for the Animal Law Coalition