At Slaughter

Farm animal slaughter - Photo by AWI

Every hour, some 1,000,000 chickens, 13,000 pigs, and 4,000 cows are slaughtered for human consumption in the United States. It is a process that takes place far from public view, and one that few know very much about.

In the past, revelations about cruelty to animals during the slaughtering process resulted in actions by Congress to improve enforcement of the federal law created to protect animals at slaughter—primarily the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA). Despite congressional action, however, enforcement of the HMSA by the US Department of Agriculture remains lacking.

The Animal Welfare Institute worked diligently for passage of the original law in 1958 and for an amendment that provided for enforcement in 1979. The HMSA requires humane handling before slaughter, as well as the rendering of animals insensible to pain (a process referred to as “stunning”) prior to being shackled, hoisted, or cut.

US Farm Animal Slaughter Statistics

The HMSA applies to the more than 147 million livestock killed each year at approximately 800 federally inspected slaughter plants, and to a much smaller number of animals killed at state-inspected plants.

Shamefully, the HMSA does not protect the approximately 9 billion chickens, 260 million turkeys, 27 million ducks, and 6 million rabbits slaughtered each year in the United States, nor does it apply to animals killed on the farm.

Find more about common humane slaughter violations and which plants are the worst offenders.

Read AWI's petitions to the USDA on humane slaughter enforcement:

Humane Slaughter Violations

The federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act requires that all cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats be humanely handled at all times when on the premises of a federally or state-inspected slaughter plant.

Slaughter plants that violate the humane slaughter law may face one or more enforcement actions, including suspension of plant operations. AWI has issued a report on humane slaughter enforcement, and the organization maintains a listing of federal slaughterhouses that have been suspended due to violations of the humane slaughter law.

Suspension information is organized alphabetically by the name of the slaughter plant. USDA enforcement records, which describe the humane slaughter violation and how it was addressed, are available from AWI upon request.*

Humane Slaughter Plant Suspension List

What constitutes a humane slaughter violation?

  • Driving animals off trucks and down ramps using excessive force or discomfort
  • Failure to move any animal unable to walk off the truck on suitable equipment or to stun the animal before he or she is moved
  • Dragging a conscious animal
  • Failure to separate disabled animals from ambulatory animals and/or to place them in a covered pen
  • Failure to provide animals with access to water, access to feed if held over 24 hours, and sufficient room to lie down if held overnight
  • Excessive use of electric prods to move animals
  • Failure to maintain facilities and equipment in good repair to prevent injury or pain to the animals
  • Making more than one attempt to render an animal unconscious by stunning and/or causing excitement or discomfort during stunning
  • Shackling, hoisting, or cutting still-conscious animals

For a description of how the USDA oversees the treatment of birds, see AWI’s report on poultry slaughter in the United States. A 2017 update to the poultry slaughter report is available here.

*Contact Dena Jones (dena@awionline.org), AWI Farm Animal Program Director, to receive assistance in obtaining livestock and/or poultry slaughter plant enforcement documents.