Breaking: Bad News for Slaughter-Bound Birds

October 3, 2018


Chickens raised on factory farms in the United States already suffer at every stage of their lives. They live in dirty, cramped conditions; are deprived of fresh air, grass and sun; suffer from genetic abnormalities tied to their growth rates and are subjected to torturous transport and slaughter. And now, things just might get worse.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service just announced that it will allow chicken plants to operate slaughter lines even faster than the current preposterous speeds. Under the agency’s plan, plants that apply for waivers and meet certain “eligibility criteria” will be permitted to increase maximum speeds from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute. It’s hard to even fathom that kind of cruelty; it means three birds would be slaughtered every second.

For years, the USDA has been pushing an ill-advised plan to allow chicken slaughter plants to increase line speeds. The plan is bad for birds, bad for slaughter plant workers and threatens food safety. And it has been consistently rejected—until now.

In 2014, the USDA attempted to allow chicken and turkey slaughter plants to increase their line speeds through the New Poultry Inspection System. After an extensive public comment process featuring opposition from a wide range of stakeholders, including from the ASPCA and our supporters, the agency determined that chicken slaughter line speeds should remain capped at 140 birds per minute. However, efforts by the chicken industry to speed up their operations did not end there. In December 2017, the National Chicken Council petitioned the USDA to increase slaughter line speed limits. But the ASPCA and many other groups fought back successfully.

Now, the USDA has found a sneaky new way to once again attempt to increase processing speeds. Instead of initiating a new rule with a public comment period, the agency has decided to grant line speed waivers to eligible plants on a case-by-case basis.

One small bright spot for chickens is that plants requesting to speed up their slaughter lines must demonstrate a history of compliance with Good Commercial Practices (GCP), meaning that chickens aren’t boiled alive in scalding tanks (designed to loosen their feathers after slaughter)—a horror that occurs all too often. However, we remain deeply concerned about how the agency will ensure that plants continue to comply with GCP, and we remain opposed to any slaughter line speed increase given its inherent threats to birds, slaughter plant workers, and consumers.

Please stay tuned for updates here and through the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade!