USDA poultry reform may lead to more birds being boiled alive

Faster production speeds will likely mean even more abuse than before

By Lindsay Abrams

Published October 31, 2013 8:44PM (EDT)

    (Kharkhan Oleg/Shutterstock)
(Kharkhan Oleg/Shutterstock)

Already notorious for increasing the risk of feces in meat and poultry, the USDA's plan to reform inspections is now under fire for allegations that it will make the cruel treatment suffered by birds chickens and turkeys even more terrible.

This is no easy task, as the fates of poultry birds are already notoriously gruesome. From the Washington Post:

On slaughter lines across the country, workers shackle the legs of live chickens and turkeys to hang them in place on the processing line before they are electrically stunned and a blade slices their necks.

If they are not shackled or stunned properly, the blade can miss its mark and live birds are dunked into scalding water used to help defeather them. Researchers say the resulting death is far more painful for the birds than if they are properly incapacitated and their necks cut.

“They are literally throwing the birds into the shackles, often breaking their legs as they do it,” said Charles “Stan” Painter, a federal poultry inspector and chairman of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals. “They are working so fast, they sometimes get just one leg in the shackles. When that happens, the chickens aren’t hanging right. . . . They don’t get killed, and they go into the scald tank alive.”

According to the post, one million poultry birds are already boiled alive each year. The USDA's plan calls for production lines to be sped up, and both industry experts and government inspectors say the increased speed will make it even harder for workers to prevent that from happening. And since unlike most of the other animals we eat, chickens and turkey aren't protected under the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, plants will be off the hook for most abuses that occur.

The increased risk of torture for birds, and of inadvertently consuming feces, for humans, are both part of a reform that's expected save the federal government money. The USDA also claims that the plan will reduce the risk of salmonella, although a government report countered that assertion.

Lindsay Abrams

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