Legal News

U.S. Court Upholds Denial of “Humane Slaughter” Coverage to Birds

In light of investigations documenting extreme cruelty to birds in slaughter plants in Arkansas, West Virginia, and Maryland, the Humane Society of the United States and California-based East Bay Animal Advocates sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture on November 21, 2005, challenging the exclusion of poultry from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and seeking to ensure that the birds are unconscious before being slaughtered. The lawsuit stated that poultry plants hang live birds injuriously in metal shackles, and subject them to paralyzing electric shocks, before cutting their necks and dumping them into tanks of scalding, feces-contaminated water while they are still alive.

However, U.S. District Court judge Marilyn Hall Patel dismissed the lawsuit in March, 2008, stating that in her opinion Congress “intended to exclude poultry from the definition of livestock when it enacted H.R. 8308,” the bill that became the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act in 1958.

In the mid-1990s, United Poultry Concerns led the campaign on behalf of legislation that would have extended federal “humane slaughter” coverage to poultry, who represent the majority of all animals slaughtered in USDA-inspected facilities – 9 billion of the 10 billion animals now being slaughtered each year, with millions more birds unaccounted for – only to meet with the same blunt object of defeat.

California Ballot Initiative Could Ban Battery Cages for Laying Hens

To put a measure on the November, 2008 California ballot that would ban barren battery cages for laying hens in the state, 433,971 valid signatures had to be gathered by the end of February. This goal appears to have been reached. Close to 90 percent of the 19 million hens used for egg production in California are stuffed in little wire cages stacked in long rows in dirty, windowless sheds, the size of football fields.

Absurdly, egg industry spokeswoman Joy Mench, director of the University of California’s Center for Animal Welfare, says an advantage of the caged environment is its cleanliness! Forget the cobwebs, floating debris and droning machinery, droppings plopped on hens’ backs from the cages above, encrusting the wires and accumulated in mountains beneath the cages. Forget the rodent droppings in the hens’ food, the excretory ammonia fumes burning into their eyes and lungs. Forget the cellulitis, respiratory infections and other diseases spawned in the presence of filth. Forget the corpses the hens use as footstools to relieve their feet from the chronic pain of wire floors.

Battery cages are hell on earth, but let no one be misled to think that the “cage-free” environment is humane. “Cage-free” hens are deprived of the outdoors. They typically live in darkened, crowded, ammonia-filled buildings, with nothing to do but lay their eggs and eat mash, until the survivors are dragged off to slaughter (or a live poultry market or a landfill) the same as their battery-caged sisters, of whom more than 5 billion are confined in cages around the world each year.

“Cage-free” hens are almost always debeaked. Why? Because bored chickens, deprived of outlets suited to their energies and interests, can be driven to peck at one another and, sadly, the “cage-free” environment is but a notch or two above the totally impoverished environment of the battery cage. As a result, some “cage-free” proponents are advocating beak trimming as an acceptable deterrent to beak-related injuries in the “cage-free” systems. Virtually all hens in all egg-production systems are debeaked at the hatchery – a brutal, painful surgery that “will always cause a deprivation of sensory input in the beak, an important source of information in birds” (Glatz, Beak Trimming, 2005, p. 77).