Why Live-Shackle Slaughter Is One of the Cruelest Meat Industry Practices

Live-shackle slaughter—the predominant slaughter method for chickens in the United States—is one of the cruelest practices in the meat industry today. Designed to kill as many chickens as possible in the shortest amount of time, the system poses both serious welfare concerns for chickens and safety issues for workers.

In live-shackle slaughter, birds are shackled upside down by their legs, painfully shocked, slashed at the throat, and defeathered in scalding water. When birds are hung upside down, they often flap their wings in terror, which can lead to bone breakages, dislocations, and other injuries. Because chickens do not have diaphragms, they cannot breathe properly when hanging upside down, which adds to the panic.

Some slaughter lines operate at extremely high speeds, killing up to 175 birds per minute. These high-speed lines are becoming more and more common in the industry. At max speed, nearly three birds are hung from moving shackles per second, with many painfully injured as workers struggle to keep up.

After the birds are shackled, their heads are dragged through a bath of electrified water in an attempt to render them unconscious before slaughter. Some panicked birds miss the stun bath completely, while others are stunned incorrectly. Research shows that many birds could just be paralyzed by the stun bath—remaining fully conscious—when their throats are slit by the automatic blades.

Most horrifically of all, some chickens miss the blades and remain fully conscious and able to feel pain as they are submerged in scalding defeathering tanks. According to the USDA, last year over 500,000 chickens drowned in these tanks.

Live-Shackle Slaughter Is Also Terrible for Workers

Workers are often scratched and splattered with blood and feces as they shackle panicked birds, which increases their risk of exposure to pathogens. Workers are also forced to move so quickly to keep up with the lines that they often injure themselves, along with suffering ailments due to the stress and unsanitary conditions. According to the United States Government Accountability Office, compared with workers in other industries, chicken slaughterhouse employees suffer some of the highest rates of severe injuries.

This system benefits only the meat industry, which prioritizes speed and profits over animal and worker welfare. That is why Mercy For Animals is calling on the meat industry to ban live-shackle slaughter by adopting the Better Chicken Commitment.

The Better Chicken Commitment is a set of standards that bans the worst cruelty to chickens, and specifically calls for ending live-shackle slaughter. So far, more than 180 leading food companies have adopted the Better Chicken Commitment, including Chipotle, Burger King, and Subway.

You can help. Tell the meat industry to adopt the Better Chicken Commitment and end the nightmare of live-shackle slaughter for billions of chickens each year.