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chickens in slaughterhouses

At some point in every proud meat-eating human beings life, they feel a bit of meat guilt. It is hard not to these days when all these animal cruelty videos are popping up showing how big corporations treat these animals long before they make it to the plate. Whether it is imagining that cute little baby cow that went into veal staring back at you from your plate or noting that every two wings you eat at all-you-can-eat wing night is one dead chicken. It scares some away to vegetarian or veganism, but others choose to live in blissful ignorance. Instead of shunning meat altogether, even though it is a valid lifestyle choice, why not rally for it to be treated better before it is killed?

Those who have rallied for more humane slaughter practices have succeeded in the past. In 1958, Congress passed The Humane Slaughter Act which required animal welfare improvements in slaughterhouses. However, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) made poultry exempt from enforcement of these laws, even though chickens represent 8.8 billion of the 9 billion animals slaughtered each year in the U.S. To put that into clearer terms, 98% of animals slaughtered are exempt from humane slaughter laws. It doesn't seem right, does it?

When chickens are sent to slaughter, they are housed in cages that are packed to the brim with birds. Many do not have room to move around, much less stand, as the more the birds get exercise the tougher the meat becomes. In these cages, many birds end up being trampled to death, frozen in their cages or even frozen to the cages. When it is time to go to slaughter, their legs are strapped onto the slaughter belt, sometime broken if the birds are too wild. As they go down this conveyor belt of gruesome death, they are met with the neck slicer that kills them before they are boiled to begin the feather removing process. Except sometimes they aren't dead when they go in the water. Chickens can duck, dodge and weave their heads and necks better than the best dodge ball player, so sometimes the neck slicer misses them and they go into the boiling vat alive. This is not only a horrific death, but leads to an increase of adulterated meat.

chickens on conveyor belts
Credit: PETA

The USDA has repeatedly recognized its own obligation to stop the horribly cruel acts that are done to birds, but yet no plant has ever gotten even a slap on the wrist for doing any of the above. The only reason the USDA mildly even cares about the cruelty to chicken is that boiling birds alive creates adulterated meat that has been responsible for countless recalls and food poisoning. So while The Humane Slaughter Act doesn't call for them to care about the cruel slaughter of chickens, they are obligated to ensure a safe, edible product.

In a 2009 directive, inspectors were told to look out for abuse within chicken processing plants. While these inspectors have recorded multiple cases of abuse, observing is markedly different from stopping it. Through the Freedom of Information Act, One Green Planet and the Animal Welfare Institute have obtained poultry inspection reports that were gathered over an 18-month experience. They, as well as PETA, are leading the call for the more humane treatment of poultry in slaughterhouses.

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