An animal rights group is calling for changes in the way poultry is slaughtered in the United States after it says it conducted an undercover investigation at a North Carolina chicken slaughterhouse.
Mercy For Animals of Los Angeles says its investigation revealed nothing illegal under current federal regulations, which it claims allow chickens to suffer unnecessarily before they are killed.
“This isn’t a matter of a single slaughterhouse failing to meet industry standards,” Matt Rice, Mercy For Animals director of investigations, said during a press conference in Raleigh on Monday. “This is a matter of industry standards allowing for blatant animal abuse.”
Robert Ford, executive director of the N.C. Poultry Federation, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspects slaughterhouses and sets humane slaughter requirements under the Poultry Products Inspection Act.
“USDA inspectors are on site,” Ford said. “If they see abuse they have authority to stop things.”
Rice presented video footage of the process he said was filmed last spring inside a Wayne Farms slaughterhouse in Dobson, which provides chickens to Gordon Food Service, a national supplier based in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“Slamming birds upside down into metal shackles, shocking their bodies in electrified vats of water, breaking their legs and wings, and slicing their throats open while they are still conscious and able to feel pain is undoubtedly cruel,” Rice said.
He added that there are often sick or injured birds shackled and hung alongside the others intended for human consumption. Not only does that raise health concerns for humans, Rice said, but these animals should be immediately euthanized instead of being dragged through the slaughter process.
“I think that most people would agree that even if animals are going to be raised and killed for food that they shouldn’t be tortured in the process,” he said. “I think it would be hard to devise a more painful way to kill an animal than the current system used to kill billions of animals in this country.”
Mercy For Animals proposes a system of slaughter that begins with nonpoisonous gases that render the birds unconscious and asphyxiate them. These systems are common in European slaughterhouses, Rice said, and should be standard in the U.S. as well.
“The federal humane methods of slaughter act requires livestock be rendered unconscious prior to having their throats cut open, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture chooses to interpret this to exclude poultry,” Rice said.
Mercy For Animals wants to pressure food suppliers and distributors to use their power to change the way poultry are treated as they are raised and slaughtered and has started a petition letter addressed to Gordon Food Service at www.goryfoodservice.com.
In an emailed statement, Gordon Food Service said it believes in the humane treatment of animals.
“As a responsible food service distributor, we take this situation seriously,” the statement said. “We have always insisted that our suppliers adhere to all applicable laws and regulations, and meet industry standards within their respective product areas. We will continue to work with our suppliers to ensure they operate responsibly, just as we have for the last 118 years.”
According to the N.C. Poultry Federation, poultry is the number one agricultural industry in the state, accounting for 40 percent of the state’s farm income while employing 110,000 workers. Ford, the executive director, said the industry relies on the USDA to set the standard for humane slaughter.
According to USDA guidelines, poultry must be slaughtered “with good commercial practices, in a manner that results in thorough bleeding of the poultry carcass and ensures that breathing has stopped before scalding, so that the birds do not drown. Compliance with these requirements ensures that poultry are treated humanely.”