Newly released hidden-camera footage recorded by a Mercy For Animals investigator reveals the danger of high-speed live-shackle slaughter at a Maryland chicken slaughterhouse. The investigator documented chickens hanging upside down for over an hour, birds’ feet torn off, and workers forced to move dangerously fast. At the time of this investigation in late 2019, the slaughterhouse was supplying Walmart-owned Sam’s Club. Walmart is one of the country’s largest chicken buyers.
Narrated by actress and activist Alicia Silverstone, the video reveals the agonizing final hours in the lives of chickens raised for meat. In the video, chickens are rounded up, crammed into filthy crates, and unloaded with forklifts like cargo. Machines then dump the terrified birds onto a fast-moving conveyor belt below the slaughter line. Under a program adopted by the USDA in 2018, these slaughter lines are allowed to kill up to 175 birds per minute—that’s nearly three birds per second!
High-speed slaughter lines force workers to move quickly, which increases stress and injury risk for both people and animals. In the footage, workers race to hang chickens upside down from metal shackles. The lines move so fast that sometimes workers miss the shackles, and chickens have to endure being hung up a second time. Even worse, the investigator witnessed chickens’ feet in the shackles, detached from the birds’ bodies. And once, during a power outage, chickens were left suspended upside down for over an hour and a half.
Chickens who survived the harrowing treatment and made it to the end of the line had their throats slit by a mechanical blade. Those who did not were tossed in the trash.
While the slaughter process is always painful and cruel, high-speed slaughter lines increase suffering. On May 28, Sen. Cory Booker and at least eight other senators submitted a letter to Senate leadership asking them to halt higher-speed slaughter for chickens, pigs, and cows during the COVID-19 pandemic, a request made just days before the Senate’s expected vote on the latest coronavirus relief package, the HEROES Act. Mercy For Animals is calling on the Senate to make this request a directive of the HEROES Act. Mercy For Animals president Leah Garcés said in a statement:
High-speed slaughter lines increase the risk of human error that results in the slaughter of fully conscious animals. They also force workers to stand close together, making slaughterhouses hotspots for the spread of COVID-19, which also endangers surrounding communities.
In February 2020, Mercy For Animals and other coalition members filed a lawsuit against the USDA, challenging the agency’s 2018 decision to allow an unlimited number of chicken slaughterhouses that meet certain criteria to increase line speeds to a maximum of 175 birds per minute—a 25 percent increase. The lawsuit outlines how operating live-shackle lines at high speeds raises the risk of both inhumane handling and worker injury.
While our lawsuit is pending before the court, Congress still has the power to slow slaughter line speeds. Leah Garcés stated:
Mercy For Animals, along with 21 other organizations that protect workers, consumers, and animals, is calling on Congress to prohibit higher-speed slaughter of birds, pigs, and cows. We must transform our inefficient, inhumane, and unsustainable food system. We can start today by passing this commonsense legislation.
To learn how you can help, visit HighSpeedCruelty.com.