HSUS Files Lawsuit to Force USDA to Oversee Poultry Slaughter

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.

Bill Introduced in House to Make Downer Ban Permanent

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) recently introduced a bill in the House of Representatives which would permanently ban downed animals — animals which fall and cannot get up under their own power — from entering the food supply.

After a cow in the United States tested positive for Mad Cow Disease in 2003, a temporary ban on the slaughter of downed animals for food was put into place by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

The bill would require that any downed animals be immediately and humanely euthanized and adds that,

It shall be unlawful for an inspector at an establishment to pass through inspection any nonambulatory livestock or carcass (including parts of a carcass) of nonambulatory livestock.

The USDA would be given one year from passage of the bill into law to promulgate regulations for the humane slaughter of downed animals and their exclusion from the food supply.

The full text of the bill can be read here.

USDA Reports Increase in Mink Pelt Production

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released its annual report on mink pelt production in the United States.

In 2004, total mink production increased by 1 percent over 2003, while the cash value of all mink pelts produced in 2004 increased by 21 percent to $124 million, up from $102 million in 2003. Average pelt price increased from $40.10 in 2003 to $48.40 in 2004. That was the highest average pelt price sinced 1995 when mink pelts averaged $53.10.

In all, 2,563,100 mink pelts were produced in the United States in 2004, and 642,100 females were bred to produce kits.

The total number of mink farms in the United States declined by 3 percent in 2004, down to 296 compared to 305 in 2003.

The USDA’s complete report on mink pelt production can be read here.

Representative Introduces Bill to Modify Downer Animal Regulation

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Montana) recently introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow some downer cattle to enter the food supply.

Rehberg’s Consumer and Producer Protection Act of 2004 would allow downer cattle who cannot stand or walk on their own due to physical conditions such as a broken leg or temporary paralysis to be slaughtered and processed.

The bill would change the definition of a “non-ambulatory” animal (emphasis added),

The term ‘non-ambulatory’ shall apply to any cattle that, at the time of examination and inspection under section 3(a), is unable to rise from a recumbent position or unable to walk for any reason, including metabolic conditions or central nervous system disorders, unless the reason for such inability is fatigue, stress, obdurator nerve paralysis, obesity, or one or more broken or fractured appendages, severed tendons or ligaments, or dislocated joints.’

The bill is currently being considered by the House Agriculture Committee.


Rehlberg wants downer cattle redefined. Jo Dee Black, Great Falls Tribune (Montana), May 18, 2004.

Debate Over Downer Cow Ban

The Associated Press reports that although comments sent to the U.S. Agriculture Department regarding its ban on downer cows is running 10 to 1 in favor of the regulation (in part because of active letter writing campaigns by animal rights groups), meat and industry groups along with some states continue to oppose the ban.

The ban, instituted in December 2003 after the discovery of a calf with Mad Cow Disease, forbids cows that are too stick to stand or walk under their own power from entering the food chain. But a number of groups and states consider the ban overly broad.

The Associated Press quotes the National Milk Producers Federation’s comments submitted to the USDA saying,

If these animals are condemned rather than slaughtered, then producers will suffer an unnecessary economic loss. Condemning animals suffering from a physical injury such as a broken leg does not seem to be supported by science with respect to BSE risk.

Similarly, Wisconsin’s state director of meat safety and inspection told the USDA that prohibiting the use of downer cows in the food supply was, “a waste of wholesome food and an economic burden” on small farmers.

Minnesota apparently considered defying the ban and allowing the slaughter of downer cows for personal consumption, but according to the Associated Press backed down under pressure from the USDA.

Some farmers and industry groups argue that the law doesn’t discriminate between animals that cannot get up and walk because they are ill and those that cannot get up and walk because of some other condition, such as a broken bone sustained in a fall.

In its comments on the regulation, the Humane Society of the United States wrote that,

It would be impossible for them to determine whether a physical injury is derivative of a neurological disorder or other illness. It is well established that illness and injury are often interrelated.


Downer cow ban questioned. Associated Press, May 15, 2004.