California-based Mercy For Animals on filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture that seeks to have poultry covered under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), a 1958 law covering the humane slaughter of pigs, cows and other livestock.
Mercy For Animals is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to include birds in the HMSA, which would encompass the 9 billion birds slaughtered each year. If granted, the petition would require that birds be handled in a way that minimizes stress and pain before they are slaughtered.
The National Chicken Council (NCC) responded that chicken slaughter is already regulated by USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) under the Good Commercial Practices regulations of the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act. “These regulations address poultry slaughter, and government inspectors are present for the slaughter process in every poultry processing plant,” NCC said.
The HMSA "was written specifically for cattle and other 'red meat' species – very large animals that must be handled in a certain way; it wasn’t designed to accommodate chicken," , NCC added. "In fact, trying to shoehorn chicken harvesting into the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act could significantly compromise chicken welfare. It’s a square peg/round hole situation."
NCC explained that, as with species subject to the HMSA, all chickens are stunned and rendered senseless to pain before slaughter.
“Chicken companies already have strong moral and financial motivation to ensure chickens are handled properly,” NCC said. “Each chicken represents an investment by the processor, and mishandling chickens is not in a processor’s financial interest. Companies take this very seriously. Any abuse is not tolerated by the industry nor FSIS. This whole process is routinely audited internally, by customers and by independent third parties and monitored on a continuous basis by FSIS inspectors.”
As of Nov. 19, 23,629 individuals had signed the petition.