Progress! Proposed Rule to Permanently Increase Chicken Slaughter-Line Speeds Has Been Withdrawn

Good news! A harmful federal rule that would have allowed an increase in the already lightning-fast slaughter-line speeds for chickens in the United States has been withdrawn.

Mercy For Animals vigorously opposed this proposed rule along with a powerful coalition of labor unions and organizations for workers’ rights, environmental protection, and animal welfare. Most recently, in December 2020 we met with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and urged them not to move forward with the rule. AJ Albrecht, Mercy For Animals’ director of government affairs, stated:

We are pleased that the administration has withdrawn this pending rule, which would have been devastating for chickens, workers, and consumers. We hope that this is just the beginning of more progress for farmed animals in 2021 and beyond.

Speeding up slaughter lines would result in unspeakable animal suffering. Indeed, increased line speeds lead to improper shackling and stunning, leaving countless animals conscious throughout the slaughter process. Additionally, many birds miss the kill blades and are still alive when they reach the scalding feather-removal tanks. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2018 more than 600,000 birds drowned in these tanks.

Increased line speeds are also terrible for people. According to academic research and nonprofit data, chicken slaughterhouses that were granted government waivers to increase their slaughter-line speeds are 10 times more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks.

The increased speeds not only put workers at further risk of COVID-19 but in many cases force them to stand so close together that they cut one another with their knives. No wonder slaughterhouse workers suffer some of the highest rates of injury and dismemberment on the job.

While withdrawal of this rule means line speeds will not permanently increase for all chicken slaughterhouses at this time, more work needs to be done. Currently, all chicken slaughterhouses are allowed to operate at 140 birds per minute, and they can apply for waivers to operate at up to 175 birds per minute. But efforts are underway to change this.

Just last year, Rep. Marcia Fudge and Sen. Cory Booker introduced the Safe Line Speeds in COVID-19 Act, which would have temporarily decreased slaughter-line speeds for all animals. With the new Congress sworn in, Mercy For Animals is pushing for reintroduction of the bill and for it to extend beyond the pandemic.

We are also part of a pending lawsuit against the USDA. On February 25, 2020, Mercy For Animals, Animal Outlook, the Humane Society of the United States, Government Accountability Project, and Marin Humane filed a lawsuit challenging the USDA’s decision to increase line-speed limits at chicken slaughterhouses.

The coalition argues that the USDA’s 2018 decision violates the Administrative Procedure Act, Poultry Products Inspection Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. The suit seeks to reverse the increase in line-speed limits and ensure that any future increases comply with the law.

Today we are taking a moment to celebrate this significant victory for chickens. Want to help champion further progress for animals? Make sure you are signed up for our Action Center to receive alerts when notable legislation is pending where you live.