Congress Moves to Restrict Extreme-Speed Slaughter

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn back the curtain on the animal and human suffering caused by extremely fast slaughter line speeds.
  • Some chicken slaughterhouses are allowed to slaughter up to 175 birds per minute and some pig slaughterhouses have no limit on how fast they can move the slaughter line.
  • Animals are at greater risk of cruel handling at faster speeds and reports reveal COVID-19 outbreaks, food safety and worker injury risks associated with extreme-speed slaughter.
  • Members of Congress are taking action by introducing the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act, which prohibits higher-speed slaughter during the pandemic and requires a review of USDA actions to protect animal, food and worker safety.

The pandemic has unveiled the brutal nature of the industrial animal agriculture system, pulling back the curtain of misleading food advertisements depicting green pastures and happy animals to reveal a cruel, fragile system that exploits animals and people. Public concern over extreme-speed slaughter and the dangers it poses has grown exponentially since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Extreme-speed slaughter puts animals at greater risk of unnecessary suffering due to mishandling and botched stunning, which could result in a failure to render them unconscious before slaughter. USDA-approved higher-speed slaughter systems and the companies that implement them exacerbate these risks by making slaughterhouse conditions even more dangerous and stressful for plant employees who are forced to work excessively fast despite the dangers they already face. A June 2020 report from the National Employment Law Project found that all 15 chicken plants that the USDA allowed to operate at faster line speeds in April 2020 had a record of severe injuries, were cited for worker safety violations by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and/or were the site of a recent COVID-19 outbreak.

The pandemic has raised even greater concerns for worker safety. According to data collected by the Food & Environment Reporting Network, at least 57,500 slaughterhouse workers have been infected with COVID-19, and at least 284 have died as of March 10, 2021. Animals are even more vulnerable to inhumane slaughter and cruel handling at these extreme speeds, which also compromise food safety—according to a Washington Post article, public records show that meat from pig slaughterhouses that were allowed to operate at faster speeds contained higher rates of contamination from fecal and digestive matter, which contain deadly pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella.

Fortunately, concerned members of Congress are taking action to put an end to extreme-speed slaughter for the duration of the pandemic. Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patty Murray (WA) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act. Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Van Drew (R-NJ), Jim Cooper (D-TN), Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Andy Levin (D-MI), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) introduced the House companion bill.

The bill would protect animals, workers, and consumers by prohibiting these dangerous, higher-speed slaughter systems from operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill also directs the Government Accountability Office to conduct a review of actions taken by the USDA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to determine their effectiveness in protecting animal, food and worker safety.

“Industrial agriculture’s failures during the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed massive vulnerabilities in our food system, creating an urgent need to transition to a more humane food system that values animals, people and the environment,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO. “Prohibiting irresponsibly fast slaughter speeds is one immediate step we can take to enhance protections for animals, workers and consumers, and we thank Senator Booker and Representatives DeLauro and Thompson for their leadership on the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act.”

The ASPCA applauds these senators and representatives for introducing legislation that would put a halt to these dangerously fast extreme-speed slaughter systems for the duration of the pandemic. We urge Congress to act quickly to pass this bill to better protect workers, animals and consumers.

You can act now: Urge your U.S. senators and representative to cosponsor this important bill.

We need your help fighting against dangerous line speeds and advocating for other key reforms to prevent animal suffering. You can help support our policy work for animals through grassroots advocacy by joining our Regional Advocacy Field Team (RAFT) today.

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