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Suit seeks humane slaughter for 9 billion farm birds

I received the following press release late Wednesday from The Humane Society of the United States. I felt it was so important, I’m not even going to rewrite and edit it down to a manageable size as I usually do. I want you to read and absorb every single word. Please do. The chance to put an end to the torture of 9 billion animals is no small thing. Go HSUS!

I’ll have more to say about this in my Friday column. You can read that in the Times, or at www.ContraCostaTimes.com

SAN FRANCISCO (Sept. 6, 2006) — Today, The Humane Society of the United States hailed a decision by United States District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel refusing to dismiss a landmark case challenging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s policy of excluding chickens, turkeys, and other birds killed for human consumption from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958. The suit alleges that current poultry slaughter methods allow more than 9 billion animals to be slaughtered each year without any federal protection from cruelty and increase consumers’ risk of contracting food-borne illness.

"The Court’s decision marks the first step in ensuring that turkeys, chickens, and other birds are protected from inhumane slaughter, as Congress specifically ordered more than 50 years ago," said Sarah Uhlemann, an attorney with the Animal Protection Litigation section of The HSUS who represents the plaintiffs in the case.

The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) explicitly requires that "cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep,  swine, and other livestock" be slaughtered in accordance with humane methods. Despite the fact that "other livestock" clearly includes animals such as farmed birds, who comprise more than nine out of ten land farm animals killed annually in this country, the USDA interprets this law in a way that excludes chickens, turkeys, and other birds from legal protection.

As a result of the USDA policy, processors continue to slaughter birds using such inhumane methods as shackling fully conscious birds upside-down, electrically stunning them into paralysis, and sometimes even drowning the conscious birds in tanks of scalding water.

According to several recent studies, these methods increase the risk that carcasses will become contaminated with dangerous bacteria that can sicken consumers.

The Court, finding that "plaintiffs credibly allege that they face an imminent exposure to heightened risk that they will become ill from consuming inhumanely slaughtered animals," dismissed the USDA’s attempt to argue that such risk should be ignored. The Court noted that plaintiffs cited the USDA’s own studies to support their argument that current method of slaughtering poultry increase likelihood of bacterial contamination.

When enacting the HMSA, Congress recognized that certain slaughter practices, including hanging conscious animals by their legs from metal shackles and slaughtering animals while still fully conscious, cause "needless suffering." To alleviate this widespread suffering, Congress mandated that all livestock be rendered insensible to pain before shackling and slaughter. Yet each year, thanks to the USDA, more than 9 billion chickens, turkeys, and other birds suffer from these very practices — practices which also increase risk of food poisoning.

Now the USDA’s policy could be overturned.

Recent abuses in poultry slaughter plants across the country have highlighted other far-reaching implications of USDA’s policy of excluding poultry from the HMSA. For example, a 2004 New York Times article graphically reported horrific abuses and "hundreds of acts of cruelty" at a Pilgrim’s Pride chicken slaughter plant in Moorefield, West Virginia, including workers "jumping up and down on live chickens, drop-kicking them like footballs, and slamming them into walls" with the acquiescence of plant supervisors. Likewise, a 2004 investigation of a Perdue poultry slaughter plant in Maryland and a 2005 investigation of a Tyson’s facility in Alabama revealed similar abuses. The workers involved in some of these cruelties were terminated, but neither the workers nor the facilities could be prosecuted under federal law because of USDA’s practice of not applying the HMSA to poultry.

The lawsuit was brought by attorneys with The HSUS and the public interest law firm of Evans & Page on behalf of The HSUS, East Bay Animal Advocates, Equal Justice Center, Western North Carolina Workers Center, and several members of The HSUS who consume poultry products.

Find out more about the work being done by The HSUS on the Internet at http://www.hsus.org.

Posted on Thursday, September 7th, 2006
Under: Farm Animals, Humane slaughter | 2 Comments »