Today, one week before Thanksgiving, Mercy For Animals filed the first-ever formal rulemaking petition calling on the USDA to end its decades-long hypocrisy. As it stands now, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA)—one of the only federal laws that protect farmed animals—has a glaring loophole. The USDA has so far refused to apply the HMSA protections to birds, who make up 98 percent of all land animals slaughtered for food in the United States. That’s right—the vast majority of the animals killed for food in the U.S. are not covered by the one law that’s supposed to afford farmed animals the most basic protections.
If it seems ridiculous and illogical that birds are exempt from the law, that’s because it is. The USDA’s refusal to include poultry in the HMSA makes no sense; chickens, turkeys, and ducks are just as capable of feeling pain as cows and pigs. The USDA’s supposed rationale for excluding birds? The USDA claims that the HMSA does not apply to poultry because the law refers only to "livestock" and that poultry are not livestock.
This glaring loophole leaves nearly 9 billion animals each year vulnerable to some of the worst abuses. Standard industry practice is to subject birds to live shackling and being dragged through an electrified stun bath before they are killed. The birds resist being shackled, and studies have found that stun baths often only paralyze the birds, meaning they aren’t actually rendered unconscious before they are killed. Under the USDA’s current policy, that’s perfectly legal since there’s no requirement that poultry be rendered unconscious or insensible to pain prior to slaughter.
Under these standards, the USDA’s own inspectors have documented horrors like chickens having their legs or wings cut off by the beheading machine while conscious and many being scalded to death in the feather-removal tanks. The USDA itself estimates that approximately 1 million birds are scalded alive each year.
MFA has corroborated the USDA’s findings by conducting numerous undercover investigations inside poultry slaughterhouses, documenting cruelty that would be illegal if inflicted on pigs or cows. We’ve documented chickens being scalded to death, workers ripping chickens’ heads off and violently slamming birds into shackles, and birds being painfully shocked with electricity.
See for yourself.
You know the system is broken when certain corporations are regulating themselves before the government mandates even minimal humane standards. Companies like Perdue have even committed to replacing live-shackle slaughter with the less cruel method of controlled-atmosphere stunning, which eliminates the cruelty of shackling birds while they’re fully conscious and terrified. But we can’t count on all corporations to make these changes themselves—it's time for the government to catch up and to regulate the way these poor birds are treated.
MFA is calling on the USDA to include birds in the HMSA, and we encourage you to add your signature to our Change.org petition. If granted, our petition would address this broken system by requiring that birds be handled in a way that minimizes stress and pain before they are slaughtered.
There’s never a logical or ethical justification for abusing animals, but this glaring loophole is perhaps the most egregious example of the way our country’s laws arbitrarily allow the abuse of some animals and not others. Let’s call on the USDA to end this hypocrisy and mandate protection for the 98 percent of farmed animals who have no rights—not even to a less painful death.