Monday, December 17, 2018

Chickens freezing to death and boiled alive: failings in US slaughterhouses exposed

Andrew Wasley and Natalie Jones
Mon 17 Dec 2018

Chickens slowly freezing to death, being boiled alive, drowned or suffocating under piles of other birds are among hundreds of shocking welfare incidents recorded at US slaughterhouses, according to previously unpublished reports.


The records include hundreds of instances in which groups of chickens and turkeys were bludgeoned, suffocated, scalded, frozen or heated to death. Inspectors note repeatedly that the plants have not put in place adequate protection from the weather while the animals wait. However, they also note that after many reports the plants do carry out retraining for workers.

The violations were witnessed between 2014 and this year at some of the largest poultry processors in the country as part of the national inspection system. The records, kept by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), were originally obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by the nonprofit Animal Welfare Institute (AWI).


The Guardian spoke to a USDA inspector at a chicken plant in the southern US. Under condition of anonymity, she said she questions the efficacy of her reports.

“You have a document. That’s basically all it is,” she said. “It’s just a document stating what happened. And to me, that’s really nothing.” She also said that on several occasions she had brought welfare issues to the attention of her supervisor or plant employees but no action was taken. “They just act like sometimes they don’t care.”


The US poultry industry slaughters about nine billion birds each year, a number the Trump administration is hoping to raise. In September, the administration released a plan to allow plants to bring their processing speed up from the previous cap of 140 birds per minute to 175.

The USDA inspector who spoke to the Guardian works at a plant that is allowed to operate under that faster line speed as part of a pilot programme for the new policy. She disagreed that faster is better. “Slow the line down,” she said. “The birds are going 175 a minute. That’s a lot to try to kill in a minute.”


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