Today, a group of 20 organizations—including animal-rights groups, workers unions, and environmental organizations—sent a letter to members of the United States Congress demanding that the US Department of Agriculture Food and Safety Inspection Services (USDA FSIS) stop allowing the increase of the speed at which chickens, cows, and pigs are slaughtered. During the pandemic (specifically between March 26th and April 20th), the USDA FSIS approved 17 requests from slaughterhouses to increase kill speeds. In chicken slaughterhouses, the kill speed increased from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute—which means that approximately three birds are killed every second—creating conditions that are even more hazardous for animals and workers alike. Currently, the Center for Disease Control reports that more than 5,000 cases of COVID-19 have been tied to 115 slaughterhouses in 19 states, and at least 20 workers have died.
“American slaughterhouses are already killing animals in a shocking manner, with chickens shackled and shoved forward so fast that they frequently miss the throat-cutting blade and reach the scalding tank alive and conscious, the very worst death imaginable,” Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), one of the coalition members, said. “It’s the height of cruelty and increased line speeds are only making it worse.”
Last week, after numerous slaughterhouses closed after their workers tested positive for COVID-19, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to issue an executive order to keep them open, offering expanded liability protections for meat companies should their workers fall ill. “With workers at slaughterhouses in danger for their lives from COVID-19, speeding up slaughter goes well beyond the obvious concerns for animal welfare, to the endangerment of those workers and their families, as well as to American consumers,” Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, another member of the coalition, said. “It’s unconscionable that our federal government would create additional risk by arbitrarily increasing line speeds for slaughterhouses during a pandemic.”