This week, a group of animal-rights organizations filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for allowing slaughterhouses to kill chickens at a rate of up to 175 birds per minute—a dangerous speed that will further jeopardise animal welfare, worker safety, and public health, the lawsuit alleges. Filed by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Animal Outlook (formerly Compassion Over Killing), Mercy For Animals, Government Accountability Project, and Marin Humane, the lawsuit was prompted by a waiver system created by the USDA in 2018 that allows farmers to slaughter chickens at an increased rate from the previously established, already dangerous, limit of 140 birds per minute. “Because of the rapid speed at which the chickens are processed, millions (if not billions) of birds suffer extreme cruelty during the process every year, and an untold number are drowned or scalded to death while fully conscious,” the lawsuit states. “This high speed also causes many workers to suffer painful injuries and exposes consumers to food contamination and illness. Additionally, the slaughter process consumes huge amounts of water and produces vast amounts of wastewater. Despite these problems, the federal agency overseeing slaughter—which has long recognized the connection between animal welfare and food safety—has decided to authorize a 25 percent increase in chicken slaughter line speeds, virtually guaranteeing increases in animal cruelty and public health dangers.” 

The plaintiffs allege the USDA has violated several existing laws with its waiver system, including the Poultry Products Inspection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act—which plaintiffs believe the agency violated by failing to provide the public with the required notice and opportunity to comment on changes to chicken slaughter line speeds. “With this lawsuit, our coalition is putting the Trump administration on notice: the American public is watching and will not stand for increased cruelty in the food supply chain,” HSUS CEO Kitty Block said. “Increasingly, consumers are demanding that animals raised for food be treated more humanely, and food corporations are responding to that demand by implementing their own animal welfare reforms. We will not allow our government, working to please a few greedy outliers in the food industry who care only about fattening their bottom lines, to buck that trend.” 

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