The Humane Society of the United States and East Bay Animal Advocates filed a lawsuit today seeking to force the U.S. Department of Agriculture to regulate and oversee the slaughter of poultry. The USDA currently excludes poultry from its oversight of animals covered by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
The lawsuit will turn largely on the definition of the word livestock.
The HMSA requires the USDA to ensure that “cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine and other livestock” are humanely slaughtered. The USDA does not define livestock to include poultry. Animal rights activists maintain that poultry indeed qualify as livestock.
According to an HSUS press release announcing the lawsuit
Jonathan R. Lovvorn, vice president of Animal Protection Litigation for The HSUS states, “When Congress enacted the HMSA, the dictionary definition of ‘livestock’ was ‘domestic animals used or raised on a farm.’ Yet today, nearly 50 years later, 95 percent of domestic animals raised on farms are still entirely unprotected during the slaughter process.”
Currently the USDA does inspect poultry slaughter facilities, but for safety reasons rather than for compliance with humane slaughter regulations.
According to a Washington Post story on the lawsuit, however,
Although there is no specific humane handling and slaughter law for poultry, he [USDA spokesman Steven Cohen] said, inspectors and veterinarians stationed in every poultry processing plant “monitor production so i a plant has evidence of excessive bruising or other conditions that would indicate handling in a manner inconsistent with humane handling, we would necessarily look into that operation.
The HSUS Files Lawsuit Challenging USDA’s Exclusion of Birds from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Press Release, Humane Society of the United States, November 21, 2005.
Humane Society to Sue Over Poultry Slaughtering. Elizabeth Williamson, Washington Post, November 21, 2005.