AWI Uncovers Animal Suffering at Poultry Slaughterhouses

Using enforcement documents supplied by the USDA, AWI has identified the US poultry slaughter plants with the worst records on animal welfare. The survey covered violations of industry animal care guidelines over a five-month period during the winter and spring of 2014.

Our list of the “10 worst” plants included companies that slaughter chickens in Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. The company with the single worst record was Pilgrim’s, which had three slaughter plants in the bottom 10. AWI sent letters to the individual plants and to their respective corporate offices requesting that they improve animal handling practices.

One recommendation AWI made was that steps be taken to protect birds being transported during periods of extreme cold. This was based on incidents last winter in which large numbers of birds froze to death in their cages.

Examples of the reported incidents include:

When snow cancelled slaughter at an Oklahoma plant, birds were left in the holding shed. More than 2,500 birds died before slaughter resumed the next day. Frozen birds had to be pried from their cages with a metal bar.

During the morning shift at a Minnesota plant last December, a large number of birds were discovered to have died due to cold temperatures (-22 degrees F). Inspectors from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service noted that outside panels on the trucks were not in place during unloading of the birds.

Over the course of one night at an Ohio slaughter plant, 20 live birds were observed frozen to their cages, and unusually high levels of dead birds were seen. Approximately 26 percent of birds presented for slaughter that day were dead.

In nearly all cases, slaughter plants know well in advance of approaching bad weather, and they have adequate opportunity to take precautions to avoid these situations. AWI told the companies involved in these incidents that each death represents severe suffering to a sentient creature that is entirely unnecessary and preventable.

In addition to weather-related incidents, other common problems cited in the enforcement records included live birds smothering to death after being tossed into piles of dead birds, and birds being burned then drowned in the scalding tank because they had not been properly stunned or cut.

AWI requested that the USDA ensure that all poultry plants have plans to protect birds from suffering and dying from exposure to extreme temperatures. We also asked that the department increase its verification procedures for good commercial handling practices, and to closely monitor the number of birds that are dead-on-arrival to the slaughter plant during periods of adverse weather. The USDA is also being encouraged to refer serious or repeat cases to state authorities for prosecution under state animal cruelty statutes.

AWI received local media coverage, including television, radio and print stories, and several media outlets posted the actual plant enforcement records, which had been supplied by AWI.