In the Winter 2014 AWI Quarterly, AWI reported that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had proposed changing the poultry slaughter regulations to allow poultry companies to accelerate their slaughter process by 25 percent, increasing the likelihood of inhumane handling of birds. USDA’s proposal had also included removing some government inspectors from the processing line and allowing companies to inspect their own carcasses for defects like bruises, contamination, and tumors. The proposal met with considerable opposition—from slaughterhouse workers who feared increased workplace injuries, to consumer groups worried about higher rates of product contamination and animal welfare organizations concerned that the new rules would increase animal suffering. AWI supporters alone generated more than a thousand letters to USDA in opposition to the plan.
As a result of the outcry, USDA changed course; its final regulations, published in August, lack the anticipated increase in slaughter line speed and also make participation in the new poultry inspection system voluntary as opposed to mandatory, as originally proposed. While the final regulations still allow participating companies to sort their own carcasses for defects, USDA has indicated to AWI that moving some inspectors “off the line” to conduct food safety testing will increase the amount of time available for monitoring of bird handling practices. AWI has offered guidance on the training of poultry workers to observe for signs of inhumane handling, and we’ll be watching to see what impact the new changes have on bird welfare.