Poultry Slaughter: The Need for Legislation

"Slaughter is different from processing in that the raw material is alive, has a central nervous system, can express emotional states, and has biological components like humans." – Dr. Janice Swanson, Kansas State University

"Do you think the birds have a sense of what is going to happen to them?"
"Yes. They try everything in their power to get away from the killing machine and to get away from you. . . . They have been stunned [paralyzed], so their muscles don't work, but their eyes do, and you can tell by them looking at you, they're scared to death."
– Virgil Butler, former Tyson slaughterhouse worker, Press Conference, Feb. 19, 2003.
Photo By: L. Parascandola
These chickens were paralyzed, not stunned, in electrified water.

United Poultry Concerns is renewing our effort to extend federal humane slaughter protective legislation to poultry. Our full-color booklet Poultry Slaughter: The Need for Legislation is now available in hardcopy, and online at www.upc-online.org/slaughter/poultry_slaughter.pdf. In May, all of our members will receive a free copy.

The need for a law to cover poultry

Birds represent 99 percent of animals slaughtered for food in the United States - 25 million birds a day, 9 billion birds each year, and climbing. Shocking revelations by former chicken slaughter plant worker, Virgil Butler (who will be speaking at our Forum in Norfolk, VA August 21-22), show how cruelly chickens, turkeys, and ducks are treated by the poultry industry.

In July 2001, Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia told the Senate: "The American people are becoming increasingly sensitive to the treatment of animals. Reports of cruelty to animals through improper livestock production and slaughter practices have hit a nerve."

In current US slaughter practice, birds are hung upside down in shackles and their heads and upper bodies are dragged through a splashing electrified water trough that paralyzes the muscles of their feather follicles. Every day in this country, 25 million birds are being tortured in this manner before their throats are partially cut and they are hung upside down in a bleedout tunnel, then plunged into a scald tank, often while they are still alive. When this happens, Virgil Butler explains, "the chickens flop, scream, kick, and their eyeballs pop out of their heads. They often come out of the other end with broken bones and disfigured and missing body parts because they've struggled so much in the tank."

Poultry welfare specialists say this torture can be replaced by an argon-based gas-stun/kill technology that kills the birds in the transport crates prior to shackling, thus sparing them the pain and stress of live shackling, electrical paralysis, neck cutting, and, for millions of birds each year, being scalded alive. Poultry welfare specialist Dr. Ian Duncan of the University of Guelph in Ontario considers this method "the most stress-free, humane method of killing poultry ever developed."

At a Georgetown University Law School Symposium on the Humane Slaughter Act, in February, attended by UPC, Joby Warrick, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of The Washington Post investigative report on US slaughterhouses, "They Die Piece By Piece" (April 10, 2001), said the press normally pays attention to animal cruelty issues only when a law is being broken or ignored. As long as birds are outside the law, and no legislation is pending, their suffering won’t gain significant media attention.

While United Poultry Concerns opposes the use of birds and other animals for food and promotes a vegan diet, we support laws and practices that could reduce suffering. The absence of a law for poultry conveys the false notion that these birds do not suffer, or that their suffering doesn't matter, and that humans have no merciful obligation to birds. We urge our members to join our campaign to get poultry covered by the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and to replace the inhumane electrical shock technology with the gas-stun/kill procedure advocated by poultry welfare specialists.

What Can I Do?
  • Please contact your Members of Congress (your two Senators and your House Representative) and urge them to sponsor and support a bill that would extend humane slaughter protective legislation to birds
  • Also, please write a letter to Senator Robert C. Byrd. Thank him for speaking out on behalf of animals raised for food, and against cruel slaughter practices, and respectfully urge him to introduce a bill that would include poultry under the federal Humane Slaughter Act. Always request a written response to your letters.

    The Honorable _________
    United States Senate
    Washington, DC 20510

    Dear Senator _______:

    The Honorable _________
    United States House of Representatives
    Washington, DC 20515

    Dear Representative _______:

  • To learn your Members of Congress, call the Capital Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Or visit www.senate.gov or www.house.gov.