COK Urges USDA to Deny Bird Slaughter Speed Increase

by Stuart McDonald

slaughter speed

On August 15, Compassion Over Killing sent a letter to the USDA after four poultry producers petitioned for a waiver that would permit increased slaughter speed. The letter, sent in support of an earlier ask by a coalition of twelve worker and consumer safety groups, explains that raising slaughter speeds from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute would be devastating to animal welfare, as well as worker and consumer safety.

Currently, the federal cap on most plants is 140 birds slaughtered per minute. Last fall, the National Chicken Council asked for an elimination of the cap, which the USDA denied. The USDA did state, however, that it would consider individual waivers. But the law only allows waivers for a limited time and for good reason, like a public health emergency.

None of the four plants’ requests fall under those requirements.

Increasing line speeds would inevitably lead to more suffering. COK investigations reveal that even at the current slaughter speed, animal welfare, food safety, and worker safety are already compromised.

In 2015, COK investigated a Mountaire Farms slaughterhouse in North Carolina. At the current speed cap of 140 birds per minute, the investigator found many troubling and dangerous oversights including:

  • Birds improperly shackled and possibly entering scalding tanks alive
  • Birds falling off the conveyor belt and being thrown across the room
  • Workers moving so quickly they do not have time to correct these errors

These potential waivers pose a huge risk for animal welfare, and workers suffer under increased slaughter speeds as well. As the Guardian reported in July, the meat processing industry remains one of the most dangerous in the United States, with approximately two amputations a month and about 17 “severe” incidents monthly, which includes hospitalizations and even cases such as “loss of an eye”. The repetitive movements required of workers also lead to chronic conditions such as carpal tunnel. Many of these high-risk workers are immigrants who are overworked, underpaid, and often denied breaks to maintain speed.

If these waivers go through, the speed of slaughter will increase by 20% in these four large plants. The USDA approving these waivers would be dangerous, unethical, and even unlawful.


You Can Help

The Compassion Over Killing legal team is working hard to prevent these regulatory rollbacks that endanger people and animals. By donating to our matching campaign in August you can turn up the heat on Big Ag and keep our legal team speaking up for the voiceless.  

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