Imagine that a dog is boiled alive every minute of every day across the United States—adding up to more than half a million dogs drowned in scalding hot water while still conscious. Shocking, disturbing, infuriating, and gut-wrenching, right? Well, what if you learned that this is the actual, heartbreaking reality for hundreds of thousands of chickens each and every year to get cheap meat on our tables. And while many of us may not have close, personal relationships with birds in the same way that we do with our canine companion animals, this doesn’t mean that chickens don’t deserve that same respect and protection from torture.
The level of suffering the vast majority of chickens in our nation’s food supply chain endure is unimaginable to most—and it’s cruelty that shouldn’t exist. Yet, this horror occurs every day on our own soil because the largest poultry producers continue to use a truly archaic method of killing the nine billion chickens it raises, annually, for meat. This standard industry practice, known as live-shackle slaughter, is violent from beginning to end—gruesome for animals and workers alike. Plus, it’s completely unnecessary.
When a chicken is killed via live-shackle slaughter, they’re slammed aggressively upside-down into metal shackles, which frequently breaks their bones and makes it nearly impossible for them to breathe. As they continue down the processing line they are still entirely conscious, able to experience personal pain and the pain of other birds violently dying around them. They’re then dragged through an electrified water bath meant to render them unconscious before reaching an automatic blade which slices their throat. After “bleeding out,” the bird’s body is submerged into a scalding tank of boiling hot water in order to remove their feathers. However, that’s the best-case scenario for this slaughter method. For countless chickens, it doesn’t end this way. Instead, millions of birds are improperly stunned in the process, which results in their throats being cut open while still conscious. Hundreds of thousands of them miss both the stunning and the blade and, therefore, end up tragically being boiled alive.
Phasing out live-shackle slaughter in favor of alternative methods like Controlled Atmosphere Systems (CAS) is not only the right thing to do for animals—it’s also safer for workers. Working on a slaughter line is one of the most dangerous jobs in America, and it’s been made particularly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many workers have not only been deprived of proper protection, they have also had to face an increase of the industry’s already-too-fast slaughter line speeds, which had operated at 145 chickens killed per minute and are now up to 175 chickens per minute. Ending cruel live-shackle slaughter would drastically improve conditions for these workers. Transitioning to CAS would mean employees would no longer have to handle the live birds, who often frantically flail around out of fear, resulting in operators being covered in scratches, feces, blood, and pathogens. Talk about a public health risk.
A broken system
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The poultry industry is made up of just a few key corporate players that have gained far too much power over virtually every aspect of the supply chain. Many of these producers want to keep consumers in the dark by upholding the false image that our nation is built on a booming structure full of family-owned farms with happy animals who live out a long life on open pastures before they end up on our families’ plates. In truth, this way of farming has been overwhelmingly replaced with factory farming. Take, for example, the top chicken producer in the US, Tyson Foods, responsible for killing an estimated 37 million chickens each week. (That staggering number doesn’t even include the millions of cows, pigs, and other farmed animals that are simultaneously slaughtered by Tyson.) With so many animals killed each day, it’s no surprise that meat companies’ top priority is efficiency—all in the name of booming profits.
Studies have shown time and again, though, that consumers care deeply about animal welfare. So why then, do so few people know what happens within factory farms, like live-shackle slaughter? Because that’s exactly how the industry wants it to be. The industry has worked hard—spending billions of dollars lobbying—to ensure the abuse is kept hidden by enacting ag-gag laws and shrouding its dirty secrets in windowless sheds and dark factories. But, as a society, shouldn’t we be long past the days of allowing multi-billion dollar corporations to operate behind closed doors while prioritizing profit and efficiency at all costs?
While a handful of the leading poultry companies have made some progress moving towards CAS, there is still so much inherently wrong that needs to be righted, for animals and for humans. That’s why big chicken is the target of a public campaign urging them to phase out live-shackle slaughter in their supply chains. It’s time for these corporations, like Sanderson Farms, Foster Farms, and Koch Foods, transition away from the cruel, outdated practices of factory farming, adopt much stronger animal welfare policies, and ultimately focus their energy on expanding their plant-based alternatives—all of which will help reduce this widespread, unfathomable suffering.