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The billions of farm animals who are raised for meat, eggs and dairy products represent by far the vast majority of animals killed in this country. No federal legal protection exists for animals when they are raised on a farm. The Humane Slaughter Act which is made up of regulations that specify the treatment of animals at the slaughterhouse before and during slaughter, does not actually guarantee the humane slaughter of animals for food and is notable for its exemptions which include poultry slaughter. This means that over 8.7 billion broiler chickens and 337 million battery hens used for laying eggs have no animal welfare protection. Federal regulations address only inspection and safe handling of the final product to ensure safety for human consumption. In addition, this Act applies only to federally inspected slaughterhouses.
The lack of welfare protections for farm animals in the U.S. stands in marked contrast to Five Freedoms that were developed in the UK and have become known as Brambell’s Five Freedoms. The Brambell Report stated that animals should have the freedom to “stand up, lie down, turn around, groom themselves and stretch their limbs.”
- Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor;
- Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area;
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment;
- Freedom to express (most) normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind;
- Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
Livestock Slaughter in the U.S.
The Humane Slaughter Act, 7 USC 1901 – 1907, requires that “all livestock be slaughtered in a humane method in order to prevent needless suffering, and to prevent the dragging of conscious, non-ambulatory animals.” Specifically this law states:
§ 1902. Humane methods
No method of slaughtering or handling in connection with slaughtering shall be deemed to comply with the public policy of the United States unless it is humane. Either of the following two methods of slaughtering and handling are hereby found to be humane:
- in the case of cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock, all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut;
§ 455. Inspection in official establishments
(a) Ante mortem inspection
For the purpose of preventing the entry into or flow or movement in commerce of, or the burdening of commerce by, any poultry product which is capable of use as human food and is adulterated, the Secretary shall, where and to the extent considered by him necessary, cause to be made by inspectors ante mortem inspection of poultry in each official establishment processing poultry or poultry products for commerce or otherwise subject to inspection under this chapter.
So inspections are required to ensure the safety of the meat, but not to ensure that animals are not mistreated.
Federal regulations which interpret how the law will be applied with regard to chickens and other poultry.
Code of Federal Regulations – Title 9. Animals and Animal Products – Chapter III. Food Safety and Inspection Service, Department of Agriculture – Subchapter A. Agency Organization and Terminology; Mandatory Meat and Poultry Products Inspection and Voluntary Inspection and Certification – Part 381. Poultry Products Inspection Regulations:
(a) Operations and procedures involving the processing, other handling, or storing of any poultry product must be strictly in accord with clean and sanitary practices and must be conducted in a manner that will result in sanitary processing, proper inspection, and the production of poultry and poultry products that are not adulterated.
(b) Poultry must be slaughtered in accordance with good commercial practices in a manner that will result in thorough bleeding of the carcasses and ensure that breathing has stopped prior to scalding. Blood from the killing operation must be confined to a relatively small area.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for inspections.
Most of the regulations deal with identifying diseased animals and not mixing them in with healthy animals for food processing.
There is little discussion of “humane” practices, though if there is bruising of the meat, it may be unfit for sale.
Modern agriculture has incorporated technology, antibiotics, and mechanization onto factory farms so that more birds can be raised in less space, and at lower costs. These efficiencies have produced plentiful, cheap meat at a huge cost of animal welfare and food safety.