November 19, 2018

New Investigation Highlights Dangers of High-Speed Slaughter

Chicken and a pig

In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced its reckless plan to let chicken slaughterhouses apply to increase their slaughter line speeds from the already questionably fast rate of 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute. Since then, the agency has granted this approval to five slaughterhouses.

The ASPCA and many other animal-protection organizations have predicted that the faster slaughtering process for birds carries with it higher risks of rough handling and improper slaughter—as well as increased worker injuries and potential food-safety risks. Now, a new investigation by Compassion Over Killing confirms our worst fears.

The video, recorded this past summer at an Amick Farms slaughterhouse, one of the chicken plants allowed by the USDA to operate at dangerously fast kill line speeds, shows birds being punched, thrown and violently shoved. The video also appears to capture birds drowning in the electrified stunning baths due to an equipment breakdown, while other birds appear to have been scalded alive. These kinds of cruelties can occur when slaughter processes are rushed and workers are under intense stress to keep up.

The industrial farming system treats chickens, who do not receive adequate legal protection, as commodities instead of living, feeling animals. Sadly, the USDA’s policy change reinforces this misguided view and will inevitably result in further tragedy for birds, who are already subjected to constant abuse.

Final Rule on Pig Slaughter Expected in April

If that isn’t bad enough, the USDA also appears to be moving forward with the disastrous proposal it issued last February to allow pig slaughterhouses nationwide to operate without any speed limits whatsoever and to privatize certain slaughter inspection duties. The agency received over 83,000 public comments—more than 39,000 of which were written by ASPCA animal advocates—on the proposed rule, which it will formalize in a final rule expected in April 2019.

In August, nearly 20,000 ASPCA advocates spoke up again in response to reports of improperly stunned pigs nearly being boiled alive in scalding tanks. Slaughter workers already struggle to keep up with the current slaughter line speeds, but the USDA’s heartless proposal will require workers to move pigs through the system even more quickly, likely leading to more cases of inhumane handling and animal suffering.

We fear egregious violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act—like the scalding of fully conscious pigs—will surge if slaughterhouses are allowed to increase their line speeds. The ASPCA, along with a broad coalition of groups concerned about animals, workers and consumer safety, will continue to urge the agency to abandon this proposal entirely.

Please stay tuned for developments around these critical animal welfare issues, and join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade to learn how you can help the ASPCA fight these threats!