USDA Plan to Speed Up Poultry Processing Could Increase Bird Abuse

In U.S. poultry slaughterhouses, nearly 1 million chicken and turkeys are unintentionally boiled alive each year. Why? According to the Agriculture Department it’s because fast-moving processing lines fail to kill the birds before they are dropped into the water.

Now, the USDA is finalizing a proposal that would revamp the inspection process and allow slaughterhouses to speed up processing lines even more. The USDA says faster poultry inspections are safer, but government officials and experts in poultry slaughter say the gain in efficiency will come cause an increase in inhumane treatment of birds.

According to the Washington Post, the inhumane treatment is proportional to the fast pace at which slaughterhouse employees work; if the birds are not properly secured before being flipped upside down and shackled, they can miss the automatic blade that is intended to kill them before they enter the scalding area.

The proposal would increase the maximum speed line from 140 to 175 birds per minute in chicken plants, and from 45 to 55 birds per minute in turkey plants. Some officials say that at that speed, it will be nearly impossible for workers to keep up.

“One of the greatest risks for inhumane treatment is line speed. You can’t always stop the abuse at these speeds,” Mohan Raj, a British-based poultry-slaughter expert told the Washington Post. “It’s so fast, you blink and the bird has moved away from you.”

The USDA says it has evidence that the new system, which would supposedly use inspectors more efficiently, could reduce food-borne pathogens like salmonella. However, those findings have been questioned.

The process of producing food animals has come under question recently, not only for its inhumane aspects, but also for its effect on public health. A new report by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production shows that in the last five years, the problems that animal agriculture poses to public health, the environment and animal welfare have worsened.

“The present system of producing food animals in the United States is not sustainable and presents an unacceptable level of risk to public health and damage to the environment, as well as unnecessary harm to the animals we raise for food,” said the report.

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Image: Jon Haynes Photography