ASPCA Leads Coalition Urging USDA to Stop High-Speed Animal Slaughter During COVID-19

May 4, 2020

Cows in cage

  • COVID-19 has had a severe impact on animals and workers at slaughterhouses, where the virus spread quickly and caused some plants to close.
  • Meanwhile in April, the USDA relaxed protections by allowing a record number of plants to start operating at alarmingly fast slaughter speeds—a practice that endangers animals, workers and food safety.
  • Yesterday, the ASPCA spearheaded a letter to Congress, joined by 20 groups, urging legislators to halt these higher-speed slaughter systems.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to tear through our communities, it is crucial that essential workers and those on the front lines are protected from the virus. Tragically, these protections have been severely lacking in slaughterhouses, which quickly became hotspots for the virus in March and April. 

Thousands of workers and over one hundred U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meat inspectors have tested positive, and at least 20 workers and two inspectors have already died. Yet President Trump issued an executive order last week calling on slaughterhouses to remain open. Making matters worse for animals, workers, and the safety of our food supply, at the height of the pandemic the USDA allowed a record number of slaughter plants to start operating at breakneck line speeds.

Yesterday, the ASPCA and 20 diverse organizations representing food workers, consumer and food safety interests, and animal welfare concerns sent a letter to Congress with this simple message: stop higher-speed slaughter now. Faster slaughter speeds make it more difficult for plants to abide by humane handling regulations and laws, putting animals at greater risk of regaining consciousness when they go to slaughter. They threaten the welfare of billions of chickens, turkeys and pigs who are already vulnerable to inhumane handling and unnecessary suffering. These accelerated production systems also place even more pressure on workers to process animals quickly, increasing the likelihood that chickens will be scalded alive or that workers will use excessive force like electric prods and rough handling to drive pigs through the line.

Faster slaughter also drastically heightens safety risks for food workers—undermining necessary worker protections during the COVID-19 pandemic. Slaughter plant operators must ensure that employees are protected with appropriate clothing and gear, that a distance of at least six feet between employees is maintained and that facilities are properly sanitized. To effectively meet these measures, production lines must be slowed down.

We are joined by other prominent voices calling on the USDA to stop granting higher-speed slaughter approvals. Last week, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) sent a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, laying out an action plan for how the agency can protect our food supply and keep workers safe. The plan, which was supported by House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN), former USDA Secretaries Tom Vilsack and Dan Glickman, and Chef José Andrés, includes a recommendation for meat packing companies to reduce line speeds and properly protect employees from exposure to coronavirus. Another letter sent Friday by U.S. Reps. David Price (D-NC) and Mark Pocan (D-WI)—joined by DeLauro and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)—urges the USDA to require a decrease in line speeds at all plants, a pause of existing line speed waivers and an end to the issuance of new line speed waivers.

Please join us in demanding that the USDA protect animals, workers and the safety of our food system instead of speeding up slaughter lines. Urge your congressional representatives to take action today.