Mercy for Animals contests that some chicken slaughterhouses are allowed to operate at line speeds of 140 birds per minute killed and believe that is already reckless. The NCC’s petition asks that some chicken slaughterhouses to operate line speeds even faster, killing as many birds per minute as they’d like. MFA and the coalition of animal welfare activists believe this would:
• Increase botched slaughter and abusive handling of birds, since USDA inspection records (see comment) have found chickens drowning in scalding tanks and having their legs cut off by the beheading machine while fully alive and conscious.
—MFA claims these findings have been corroborated by extensive undercover investigations by MFA at poultry slaughterhouses across the country. Using hidden cameras, MFA has documented workers ripping chickens’ heads off, throwing birds like basketballs, violently slamming them into shackles, birds painfully shocked with electricity, and animals scalded to death in hot water feather removal tanks.
• Also, MFA says conditions for slaughterhouse workers will become more dangerous with increased line speeds as the injury rate for poultry slaughter workers is six times higher than the average for other industries. Increased line speeds mean employees must more quickly operate dangerous machinery.
“Our undercover investigations have revealed the horror of chicken slaughter: Birds scalded alive in hot water tanks and having their heads and legs ripped off, all while conscious and able to feel pain,” said Vandhana Bala, general counsel of Mercy For Animals in a statement. “The National Chicken Council’s petition to allow some slaughterhouses to kill as many chickens as possible per minute would result in more botched slaughter, putting consumers, workers, and animals in harm’s way. The USDA must strongly and swiftly deny this request.”
NCC states that processors would still be required to maintain process control at whatever line speed they choose, and — as a condition to receiving a waiver — processors would be expected to develop a process for monitoring and restoring process control if lost.
The NCC’s petition also stated an understanding of increased concerns for worker safety raised by increased line speeds and that “FSIS accounts for worker safety in the current line speed regulation by including a provision requiring plants to comply with federal worker safety requirements. Subpart (d) of the 9 C.F.R. § 381.69 makes clear that all plants, regardless of the line speed at which they operate, must provide workers with a workplace free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm and to comply with all Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. The current maximum line speed regulation therefore already contemplates that plants may operate at line speeds only as fast as will allow them to continue satisfying their obligation to preserve worker safety, despite the maximum line speed permitted.”