Proposed poultry slaughter line speed-up would boil more birds alive

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  October 2013: (Actually published on November 20,  2013.)

WASHINGTON D.C.––Fast-moving poultry slaughter lines cause nearly a million chickens and turkeys per year to be boiled alive when workers miss killing them,  according to USDA data. Yet,  reported Kimberly Kindy in the October 29,  2013 edition of the Washington Post,  “The USDA is finalizing a proposal that would allow poultry companies to accelerate their processing lines.” The proposal is touted as part of a plan to make poultry slaughterhouses more hygienic and efficient.  “But that would also make the problem of inhumane treatment worse,”  Kindy wrote.  “USDA inspectors assigned to the plants say much of the cruel treatment they witness is tied to the rapid pace at which employees work, flipping live birds upside down and shackling their legs.  If the birds are not properly secured,  they might elude the automated blade and remain alive when they enter the scalder. “Over the past five years, an annual average of 825,000 chickens and 18,000 turkeys died this way,  USDA public reports show.  Government inspectors assigned to the plants document these kills, which are easily spotted because the birds’ skin becomes discolored.”

The proposed new USDA rules would accelerate the line speeds in the evisceration phase of poultry processing,  not the killing phase.  “But if plants wish to boost production by speeding up the processing of birds,”  Kindy noted,  “more would have to be slaughtered.” The USDA data was obtained by the Government Accountability Office at request of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Poultry is not covered by the Humane Slaughter Act,”  elaborated Humane Farm Animal Care founder Adele Douglass.  “However,  food safety regulations require USDA inspectors be at poultry slaughter plants to inspect and identify contaminated poultry and diseased carcasses.  The proposed USDA plan would cut the number of USDA inspectors who are there to examine the birds for diseases by 40%,  replacing them with poultry company or processing plant employees.  In addition, this plan allows the increase of the line speeds.  The line speeds must be slow enough for the inspectors to visually examine the birds.  This proposal would increase the line speeds dramatically to about 3 birds per second.  That does not bode well for even a trained USDA poultry inspector to examine the birds, let alone for the ability of an untrained poultry company employee. “Most industrial poultry plants shackle only one of the bird’s legs,  causing the bird pain and distress,”  Douglass continued,  “in order to process more birds in less time.” Even at the present line speeds,  Douglass said,  “Industrial poultry slaughter plants can’t meet the HFAC standards because of their line speeds.  The HFAC standards require that chickens be hung in shackles by both legs,  with each leg placed in a separate shackle.  An appropriate line speed is required in order to do this carefully.  Any plant that sent live birds into the scalder would never pass our inspection.”  

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