News Index > Apr-Sept 2006 > Sept 2006
Court keeps poultry slaughter case alive

By Christopher Doering
Sep 6, 2006

Online at

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a victory for animal-rights supporters, a U.S. district court ruled on Wednesday that members of the U.S. chapter of the Humane Society can sue the federal government over the way chickens and turkeys are slaughtered.

U.S. federal judge Marilyn Hall Patel of California's northern district opposed a motion by the U.S. Agriculture Department to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to broaden a 1958 law requiring the humane slaughter of cattle and pigs to include poultry.

Several organizations including the Humane Society and the East Bay Animal Advocates were dismissed from the lawsuit but individual members still have standing within the court, the judge decided.

"We're ecstatic either way," said Jonathan Lovvorn, a vice president with the Humane Society of the United States.

"The fundamental issue in the case is the fact that such a large amount of the animals we consume for food are not provided federal protection during the slaughter process," he said.

A USDA spokesman had no comment on the decision.

The case against the USDA was filed in federal district court in San Francisco last November.

The lawsuit alleged that current industry practices include hanging live birds upside down in metal shackles, then moving them through an electrified water bath that paralyzes them while still conscious.

Plaintiffs argued the procedure is cruel and unsafe because it increases the chance that a bird will inhale feces in the water, leading to a higher bacteria level that could cause food poisoning for consumers if the meat was not properly cooked.

They also allege that birds trying to escape can spread dirt and dust inhaled by workers, defecate on the employees and cause them emotional distress after seeing the birds suffer.

The "plaintiffs credibly allege that they face an imminent exposure to heightened risk that they will become ill from consuming inhumanely slaughtered animals," Judge Patel said in the decision.

The Humane Society has estimated that 9 billion birds, or about 95 percent of domestic animals raised on farms, are unprotected during the slaughter process.

USDA veterinarians are assigned to poultry plants to ensure practices there do not violate the law.

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