The inadequate, haphazard oversight by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) of the treatment of chickens and turkeys at slaughterhouses has resulted in the widespread mistreatment and suffering of birds at some of the nation’s largest plants, with no real consequences for the meat companies, according to new research released on Friday by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI).
AWI’s report reviews USDA inspection records from 2017 through 2019 at approximately 300 federally inspected turkey and chicken slaughter plants, which kill the vast majority of the 9.6 billion birds butchered every year for their meat.
The USDA has gradually increased the number of handling records issued for noncompliance with ‘good commercial practices’ (GCP) at chicken and turkey slaughter plants over the past 14 years. However, during the recent three-year period, inspectors took action to stop the abuse of birds in only 14% of the documented incidents.
Although the slaughter of birds is currently governed by the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act, not one single USDA regulation requires that individual birds be handled ‘humanely.’ As a result, inspectors are prevented from taking any enforcement action for most GCP violations.
Sixteen bird slaughter plants were cited for 20 or more ‘humane’ handling violations, yet the USDA only issued ‘Letters of Concern’ to Pilgrim’s Pride in Nacogdoches, Texas, and Mar-Jac Poultry in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for egregious or repeat handling problems, according to documents obtained by AWI through the Freedom of Information Act.
“Absent real accountability, industry leaders have no incentive to alter their behavior and treat birds more humanely,” Dena Jones, Farm Animal Program Director for AWI, said in a statement. “It is clear that the USDA is not serious about preventing mistreatment of birds at slaughter; the department’s GCP oversight program, which it created in 2005 in response to public and congressional outcry over bird mistreatment, is purely voluntary.”
Between 2017 and 2019, the most commonly cited “humane” handling problems at turkey and chicken slaughter plants involved birds drowning in scald tanks and the improper disposal of live birds, including burying them alive under piles of dead birds. Incidents affecting the largest number of birds involved high dead-on-arrival rates due to suffocationor prolonged exposure to extreme weather, as well as mechanical problems resulting in injury and death. For example, records showed that multiple birds had their legs ripped off or were disemboweled while conscious due to malfunctioning equipment.
Similarly, video footage obtained by animal advocacy undercover investigations has revealed that, even under the GCP program, the abuse of birds is still common practice at some slaughter plants, where workers have been observed throwing, kicking, and punching birds on numerous occasions.
In August, AWI and Farm Sanctuary sued the USDA for failing to require “humane” handling of birds at slaughter. The lawsuit is still pending.
AWI’s recent investigation, which updates its 2017 report on this issue, found that the following turkey and chicken slaughter plants received the most GCP citations from 2017 through 2019: Allen Harim Foods in Harbeson, DE (56); Mar-Jac Poultry in Hattiesburg, MS (49); Perdue Foods in Lewiston, NC (37); Moroni Turkey Processing (Pitman Farms) in Moroni, UT (35); and the former Simply Essentials Poultry in Charles City, IA (34).
Among the report’s recommendations:
The USDA should promulgate regulations requiring the “humane” handling of birds by addressing worker training, transportation, and holding conditions, the shackling of birds, the treatment of sick and injured birds, and more.
The department should proactively post online records related to noncompliance, and refer incidents involving intentional abuse for prosecution under state animal cruelty laws.
“Industry leaders and the USDA continue to promote a false narrative that there is robust federal enforcement of “humane” handling of birds at slaughter,” Jones said. “It is incumbent upon the next administration and Congress to put an end to this egregious cruelty.”
WAN and Peace 4 Animals looks forward to a compassionate plant-based future which no longer includes killing animals for their meat.
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A lawsuit was filed against the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) for new regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that will shield federally-funded factory farms — known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) — and slaughterhouses from environmental review. The new regulations also limit the ability of the public to know about and challenge harm caused by these facilities.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations generate massive amounts of waste, contaminating air, drinking water, and surface waters, and impact the health of both people and animals; all while farmed animals are cruelly confined to small crates sometimes where they can barely stand or even turn around.
One way the federal government props up this cruel industry is by providing millions of dollars annually in financial assistance to new and expanding CAFOs and slaughterhouses.
Under previous NEPA regulations, federal agencies were required to assess and make public the environmental impact of a new or expanding factory farm or slaughterhouse before any federal funding was approved.
CEQ’s new rule allows the government to continue supporting the CAFO industry without accounting for any of the environmental impacts, all the while keeping the public in the dark.
“Factory farms and slaughterhouses already operate with little accountability or transparency for the harm they cause to animals and nearby communities,” Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Executive Director, Stephen Wells, said in a statement. “The NEPA environmental review provides the public with information about the harm these facilities cause and a chance to speak up before the government helps build and expand factory farms and slaughterhouses in their communities.”
“Often, the CAFO industry shows up in rural areas without any notice or consideration of how it will impact people’s health or the local environment, injuring residents without any chance for them to be heard or a clear remedy,” stated Kelly Hunter Foster, Waterkeeper Alliance’s Senior Attorney. “NEPA requires that people be considered stakeholders when major projects are proposed in their communities. CEQ’s new regulations attempt to rewrite these clear statutory requirements to shield a major polluting industry from environmental review.”
Without the transparency provided by NEPA’s environmental review, communities may not even be aware of the construction of slaughterhouses and new factory farms, or the expansion of existing ones, until it is far too late.
CEQ’s new rule specifically exempts Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Small Business Administration (SBA) loan guarantees to CAFOs from NEPA review entirely, leaving federal agencies with the ability to guarantee loans for CAFOs that are unable to receive financing anywhere else without having to conduct any environmental review first.
Additional provisions in CEQ’s rule could further limit or prevent environmental review of government support for the factory farming industry, including language that could force federal agencies to overlook the climate change impacts of factory farming.
The Council on Environmental Quality’s new rule will also make it more difficult for members of the public to bring legal challenges when federal agencies fail to adequately review the environmental impacts of the actions, further hobbling communities’ ability to protect themselves.
You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg
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Two billboards addressing Kansas Governor Laura Kelly were launched on September 9th near the governor’s office at the state capitol. The billboards, which urge state officials to shut down slaughterhouses and promote a plant-based diet, were sponsored by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
The billboards confront the governor with the message, “Governor Kelly: Can Kansas Switch to a Safer Food Supply Like Sunflowers Over Swine? PromotePlantProtein.org!”
Sunflowers are a profitable crop in Kansas and there are several facilities in western Kansas that process the seeds for oil, butter, and roasting.
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine also filed a complaint on September 8th with the head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Lee Norman. The complaint stated that any slaughterhouses experiencing new coronavirus cases should be shut down immediately. The complaint argues that meatpacking facilities should be replaced with cleaner, safer facilities that produce plant-based protein.
The current public health emergency highlights the need to transition the food production system away from animal agriculture. This is especially urgent since meat products increase the risk of chronic diseases. Studies indicate that affordable, plant-based options can help people prevent and even reverse diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, among other conditions.
“The transition to plant-based protein is already underway, driven by consumer demand, but this health-promoting trend needs the support and assistance of government,” Susan Levin, MS, RD, Director of Nutrition Education for Physicians Committee, said in a statement. “With incentives from the state, farmers could increase acreage of sunflowers, pinto beans, and other high-protein crops while decreasing livestock production.”
In response to the popularity of plant-based protein products, large meat processors are launching plant-based nuggets and other products. Meanwhile, facilities that produce traditional meat products have been hotspots for coronavirus infections.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reportedly stated that as of September 7th, there are nine active outbreaks associated with meatpacking facilities, accounting for over 2,000 cases.
By contrast, plant-based protein manufacturer, Impossible Foods, reports zero coronavirus cases at its facility in Oakland, California.
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