Factory Farm Industry Wants USDA to Let Slaughterhouses Kill Animals Even Faster

In its unrelenting desire to maximize profit at all costs, the factory farming industry wants the United States Department of Agriculture to allow slaughterhouses to speed up their already-fast killing lines. This is cruel, dangerous and downright irresponsible—and Americans shouldn't stand for it.

Billions of farm animals are killed every year across the U.S., and they endure egregious suffering in the process, especially as slaughterhouse assembly lines have sped up. Increasing the number of animals killed per hour increases industry profits—and the potential for harmful mistakes. For example, inadequately stunned animals have been dismembered while still conscious, and millions of chickens have been dropped into scalding tanks and boiled alive. As the rate of slaughter and processing increases, workers have greater difficulty observing basic standards for animal welfare and food safety, and they’re more likely to be injured on the job as well.

The USDA, which has failed to address rampant slaughterhouse abuse for years, is now proposing to expand its high-speed slaughter pilot program at pig slaughterhouses. The agency wants to revoke existing limitations on slaughter-line speeds and instead allow slaughterhouses to determine their own line speeds, while also transferring key inspection duties to industry operators, effectively allowing them to police themselves.

A diverse group of consumer, labor, civil rights, public health, animal protection, and environmental organizations are opposing the proposal, and urging an end—rather than an expansion—to the high-speed slaughter program.

In addition to the threats it would pose to animal welfare and worker safety, speeding up the kill line would jeopardize food safety as well, since faster line speeds make it more difficult for workers to notice and prevent contamination. One USDA inspector who worked inside a high-speed kill operation said, "On numerous occasions, I witnessed [plant employees] fail to spot abscesses, lesions, fecal matter, and other defects that would render an animal unsafe or unwholesome."

In 2015, an explosive undercover investigation was conducted at a slaughterhouse supplying the industry giant Hormel. The slaughterhouse was killing pigs at a rate of 1,300 per hour, and the investigation found pigs covered in feces and pus-filled abscesses being processed for human consumption under USDA inspection. Slaughter-plant employees struggled to keep up with the faster line speed by dragging, kicking, beating and shocking terrified pigs to move them through the facility more quickly. The frantic pace of higher-speed killing exacerbates the inherent violence and stress at the slaughterhouse for both people and animals, increasing the risk of worker injury and ratcheting up the pain and stress endured by the animals.

This outrageous proposal to increase killing speeds of pigs and allow the industry to inspect itself represents much of what is wrong with our modern food system. This system of industrial farming and slaughter treats animals, the environment, workers and consumers with utter disrespect. Industry executives and lobbyists actively seek to keep citizens in the dark through the passage of "ag-gag" laws to conceal abusive practices. They also want to avoid government oversight and accountability, and have successfully passed so-called "right-to-farm" laws to shield themselves from liability stemming from their irresponsible behavior.

Factory farms cut corners to maximize profits, and they don't want to be held accountable for the harms they cause. The USDA has been an enabling accomplice, as we see in the case of this high-speed slaughter program.

The USDA should not accommodate agribusiness' interest in killing animals faster so they can make more money, and the industry should not be allowed to police itself. Government policy should instead serve the interests of society at large. Instead of speeding up slaughter, the USDA should slow it down, an action that would help lower the risks of injury to workers, contamination and illness to unsuspecting consumers, and additional suffering to animals.

Industrialized animal agriculture is unhealthy, inefficient, and inhumane, and our government should stop enabling and encouraging it. We could feed more people more healthfully using fewer resources, and spare animals from immeasurable suffering, by simply eating plants instead of animal products. Concerned citizens are beginning to recognize the negative impacts of our animal-based food system, and they are looking for alternatives.

Farmers markets, community-supported agriculture programs, and other food businesses that challenge the factory-farm system are taking root, and consumers are voting with their dollars to support them. We are in the midst of a burgeoning food movement, driven by citizens’ growing interest in health, sustainability, and compassion, and the USDA should be encouraging and subsidizing this, rather than continuing to enable and prop up the factory-farming industry.

The USDA should disavow its dangerous proposal to expand high-speed pig slaughter, which would contribute to egregious animal suffering, while undermining food safety and increasing the risk of injury for workers. This proposal does not reflect our society’s values, nor does it serve our nation’s interests. It is inhumane and irresponsible, and should be withdrawn.

Citizens have until May 2 to express their concerns about this misguided proposal during a public comment period, and I urge all who care about food safety, worker rights or animal protection to have their say.

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