More Chickens May Be Boiled Alive Under USDA’s New Proposed Rule

At poultry slaughterhouses, chickens whiz past workers at the rate of 35 per minute per inspector, getting various parts cut off. At one of the early stations their throats are cut, so it wouldn’t seem to make any difference to the chicken how fast the rest of the production line goes, except for this: some of them are still conscious.

Now the USDA is preparing to implement a rule that would increase that speed to 175 per minute per inspector. Inspectors would have less time to examine birds, meaning that “plant employees [would] replace federal government inspectors for certain inspection activities.” In other words, slaughterhouses would, to a significant extent, police themselves.

United Poultry Concerns describes the slaughter process. Chickens enter the slaughter line when a worker shackles them upside down by the feet (or by one foot; when things move fast it’s hard to be too particular) to a moving belt.

Next they are dragged through electrified water. This doesn’t kill or stun them and isn’t meant to. The purpose is to paralyze them so they won’t thrash around for the rest of the process.

After that the birds reach the throat-cutting machine or worker. The fastest way to kill them here is to sever both carotid arteries, which leads to unconsciousness in two minutes. That doesn’t always happen. The carotids are buried deep in chickens’ neck muscles, so cutters sometimes miss them and cut one jugular vein instead, which leaves the birds conscious and suffering for eight minutes. The birds are left hanging for 90 seconds to bleed out.

The next station is the scalding tank. Chickens are dunked into boiling water to remove their feathers. At this point, many of them are still conscious — they are boiled alive.

Some birds twist their heads up and avoid the throat-cutting machine. Slaughterhouse workers call these fully conscious birds “red skins” because they are still full of blood when they hit the boiling water. In one year that the government kept records for, 3,121,617 red skins were dropped into scalding tanks.

After this dismemberment begins.

Speeding up the process, as the USDA proposes to do, will make it harder to cut both carotid arteries, leaving more birds conscious. If the bleed-out time is shortened, even more birds will feel the boiling water.

Whether the new speed is humane is not relevant to the USDA’s decision. There is no federal law that protects chickens during slaughter, leaving the USDA free to make its choice based on money. The agency “estimates that the changes will save taxpayers $90 million over three years and $256 million in production costs annually.”

Some believe that reducing the time inspectors have to look at each bird will endanger the food supply. McClatchy writes:

Federal poultry inspectors protest that they can’t see bruises, blisters, tumors, pus, broken bones and other signs of tainted birds when carcasses fly by them at a rate of a third of a second. They can’t look inside the birds for bile, partially digested feed or fecal matter, or examine entrails for diseases such as avian leukosis – contaminants that inspectors say can be disgusting at best and dangerous at worst.

“The rule continuously talks about how much money per pound the plants are going to save by going into this process,” said Stan Painter, the chairman of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, a union that represents about 6,500 federal inspectors. “Why the hell is an agency concerned about the money that the plant’s going to save? I realize that’s a stakeholder, but our focus should be food safety.”

Speeding up the slaughter process appears likely not only to make chickens suffer even more than they do now, but also to increase the possibility that people who eat them will ingest contaminants and become ill.

It will also put workers at greater risk of injury. That is why a “coalition of consumer, labor, public health and civil rights groups is calling on the” U.S.D.A. not to pass the rule. According to the coalition, “59 percent of poultry workers had definite or possible carpal tunnel syndrome when line speeds were 70-91 birds per minute.” Those numbers would only increase as lines got faster.

Speeding up the lines in chicken slaughterhouses would increase the birds’ suffering, decrease the safety of their meat, and increase the likelihood of injuries to workers. You can tell the USDA not to adopt this rule by signing our petition.


Related Stories:

Ground Up Alive: Baby Chicks Suffer

Consumers Protest Dirty Chicken Outside USDA

Study Finds Staph in Half of Supermarket Meat


Photo credit: Hemera


Cate S.
Cate S2 years ago

Shocking! What was the outcome?

Karen Boyd
K B3 years ago

Absolutely disgusting. The least that can be done for these chickens in repayment for giving their lives is that it is guaranteed that the process will be humane - zero suffering.

Jinny L.

What a bunch of heartless and cruel beasts. An extremely disturbing proposed rule by the USDA. Meat and poultry are never on my plate....I refuse to be an accomplice to such brutality towards these innocent animals. Thanks for sharing.

Barbara Godwin
Barbara Godwin4 years ago

This article speaks for itself. As long as corporations run the ag business, human safety and animal rights will be put on the back burner..... no pun intended. Corporations ARE NOT PEOPLE and for the most part see no obligation other than to turn a profit. It is easy to turn a blind eye in the boardroom when all you have in front of you are numbers...

Estie K.
Estie Kretschmer4 years ago

To be quite honest, I don't give a hoot about people getting ill. If you know what happens to the chicken before it lands on your plate and you still choose to eat it, you deserve to get sick. Very sick.

Nicole Bergeron
Nicole Bergeron5 years ago

As the article said it not only increases the number of chickens that suffer, the process should be slow so the chickens have passed on before boiling, but it also increases the risk of containments that people may or may not get. Animals should be respected even if they wind up as someone food, and that includes letting them die before cooking them. No one would like to be cooked alive.

Linda P.
Linda P5 years ago

Heartless to do this to these innocent victims. USDA do NOT allow lines to speed up.

Lesley R.
Past Member 5 years ago

I cannot imagine the fear every slaughtered chicken suffers in the intensive farming industry, I only know THAT I WANT IT STOPPED RIGHT NOW. We can write all the fluffy words we like but it's not going to change a single bird's agonising descent into death UNTIL THIS HORRIBLE METHOD OF SLAUGHTER IS BANNED. Surely there is one humane voice in government who will speak out and if there isn't then the sooner this planet is totally destroyed by an asteroid the better. Man is a hateful, cruel and, hopefully, a damned species.

Paula K.
Paula Kastelec5 years ago

For your information..Many dont know this..Slaughterhouses have been policing themselves for years now..Saves from having to pay Gov. inspectors..

JMarie Wood
Joyce Wood5 years ago

Just when I think we are a country of supposedly peaceful and humane individuals I read of yet another atrocity that we commit every day against helpless animals to speed up the production of food at any cost in pain and cruel suffering to these animals just because no one is there to stand up for them. I became VEGAN in June of 2012 after connecting the dots and learning how our meat and dairy industry works. Please take the time to learn more to stop this kind of actions. There is no way I would ever eat an egg or any other dairy products or animal products after being informed. New Year. Time for a lot of changes.