Groups Seek Regulations for Humane Handling of Birds at Slaughter

Washington, DC—Today, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Farm Sanctuary, working with the Animal Law Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School, petitioned the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to develop regulations governing the handling of chickens, turkeys, and other birds at slaughter. The petition calls for FSIS to write regulations to address bird handling and slaughter practices that result in adulterated products, as is the agency’s duty under the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA).

The PPIA defines “adulterated” to include products from birds which have died by means other than by slaughter, or if the product is unhealthy or unwholesome. Under its authority to regulate adulterated products, FSIS condemns or downgrades poultry products from birds with bruises and other bodily injuries—which often result from inhumane handling. Birds in slaughter plants may be subjected to intentional acts of cruelty by workers, including being kicked, hit, mutilated, driven over, or killed by an unauthorized, inhumane method. Improper stunning or cutting can further lead to birds entering the scalding tank while still alive and dying by drowning.

In 2005, after the exposure of incidents of intentional cruelty at some US poultry plants, FSIS acknowledged the connection between inhumane handling and slaughter of birds and adulteration. It instructed the industry to handle birds in accordance with “good commercial practices,” on the basis that birds who have been treated humanely are less likely to be bruised or to die other than by slaughter. About that time, FSIS in-plant inspectors and humane slaughter experts began conducting Good Commercial Practices (GCP) reviews, and citing plants in official reports and memorandums for any observed violations.

FSIS failed to define “good commercial practices” in regulation, however, and enforcement of its humane handling requirements has been infrequent and uneven among FSIS field offices. For example, only 21 percent of federal poultry plants received a formal GCP review from an agency humane slaughter veterinarian during a recent 18-month period, according to records received through the Freedom of Information Act. Moreover, there was no documentation of humane handling activities of any kind at approximately half of all federal poultry plants during that period.

“Chickens and turkeys represent more than 98 percent of slaughtered land animals, and the way they are treated would shock the conscience of any kind person,” said Bruce Friedrich, senior policy director at Farm Sanctuary. “They are routinely boiled alive, thrown alive into trash bins, driven over with fork lifts, and more—we’re asking USDA to create binding regulations to prohibit this abuse.”

“FSIS has identified inhumane handling of birds as a cause of adulterated poultry products, which they are obligated by law to address,” said Dena Jones, AWI farm animal program manager. “Without appropriate regulations, good commercial practices will not be consistently implemented by the industry or enforced by agency inspection personnel—and birds will suffer as a result.”