Billions of chickens and turkeys will be in danger of more abuse if the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) moves forward with its plan to change slaughter plant inspection systems. These changes would speed things up and basically allow the industry to police itself.
The USDA is finalizing a proposal that is intended to improve efficiency and food safety, but critics believe it will have the opposite effect and will threaten animal welfare.
Close to a million chickens and turkeys suffer a horrific death being boiled alive every year in U.S. slaughterhouses, which is a result of already fast moving lines where workers fail to properly kill birds before they’re dropped into scalding water, according to the Washington Post.
Current slaughter practices involve shackling chickens and turkeys upside down by their legs before they are stunned and have their throats slit. If they’re not shackled or stunned properly, or the blade misses them, they will end up in the tank of scalding water alive and fully conscious, which is a death researchers believe is far more cruel and painful than how it’s supposed to be done. Even if someone wanted to stop it from happening, things are moving too fast for them to be able to do anything.
Boiling birds while they’re still alive accounted for 35 percent of the citations obtained under the Poultry Products Inspection Act between January 2011 and July 2012, which some inspectors attributed to line speed, according to the Washington Post.
Under the new plan line, speeds will increase from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds in chicken plants and from 45 per minute to 55 in turkey plants. An estimated 40 percent of government inspectors will also be replaced by poultry plant employees.
The plan is being opposed by organizations including the Animal Welfare Institute, Farm Sanctuary and the Safe Food Coalition, which includes the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, the Consumer Federation of America and Food & Water Watch, among others.
Critics believe fewer USDA inspectors and faster line speeds will increase inhumane handling and injuries sustained by otherwise fragile birds at slaughter plants who are already exempt from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, making them even more vulnerable to suffering. Putting birds in danger and cutting back on government inspectors will also mean more abused and diseased birds will be missed, which will threaten food safety.
The USDA has been running the pilot program known as HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) at a few plants since 1998 and published the proposed rule that would extend it to all U.S. poultry plants in 2012. Whether the USDA properly evaluated those programs as it promised it would do before going forward has been called into question.
A report from the Government Accountability Office stated that the USDA failed to properly evaluate several of the programs and didn’t even bother to evaluate the outcome at turkey plants because only five were involved. The GAO stated that, “As a result, USDA may not have assurance that its evaluation of the pilot project at young chicken plants provides the information necessary to support the proposed rule for both chickens and turkeys.”
The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) countered that the main objective here is to reduce overlapping inspections by employees at slaughter plants and government inspectors and believes the new system will be safer and prevent Salmonella and Campylobacter infections.
Food safety is an important issue, but overburdening a system that’s already moving too quickly will only lead to more suffering, while letting an industry with a questionable track record when it comes to animal welfare reap the profits.
Please sign the petition urging the USDA to abandon its proposal and prevent millions of chickens and turkeys from being boiled alive.
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