Farmed Animal Watch: Objective Information for the Thinking Advocate
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November 24, 2005 -- Number 44, Volume 5

1. Animal Advocates File Lawsuit to Enforce "Humane Slaughter" of Poultry in U.S.

Animal advocates including two organizations and five individuals have filed suit against the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to enforce the coverage of birds under the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958. That legislation requires that "cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock" are "rendered insensible to pain" prior to being slaughtered. Despite the mention of "other livestock," in practice humane slaughter laws have not been enforced for farmed poultry, including chickens and turkeys who comprise more than 95% of animals killed for food in the US. The act's coverage of poultry was further confused by a 1978 law also called the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act that specifically excluded birds from inspection-related language.

According to the current lawsuit, "Because of USDA's actions, the more than 8 billion chickens and other poultry slaughtered each year can lawfully be shackled upside-down, cut by mechanical blades, and immersed in scalding water while fully conscious." The complaint (see PDF link below for full language) contends that the current poultry slaughter system leads to both systemic cruelty and gives rise to individual abuses, including several recent cases in Maryland, West Virginia, and Alabama. The lawsuit argues that the original 1958 Humane Methods of Slaughter Act has never been replaced or repealed, and therefore the humane slaughter of birds must be enforced.

The lawsuit's plaintiffs include The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), East Bay Animal Advocates (EBAA), and five individual consumers of poultry products. Together they are asking the court to order the USDA to include chickens, turkeys, and other poultry under the 1958 act. The complaint also asks the court to declare unlawful a September 2005 USDA notice to farmers which said that the 1958 act did not apply to the handling and slaughter of poultry. Finally, the suit also seeks to prevent the USDA from sidestepping the application or enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act for birds in future department actions and notices.

1. "Animal Rights Groups File Suit over Poultry Slaughter Methods,", 11/22/05 (Registration)

2. "Humane Society to Sue over Poultry Slaughtering," Washington Post, 11/21/05

3. "Lawsuit Seeks Chicken Slaughter Changes," Daily Times, 11/22/05

4. "The HSUS Takes USDA to Court to Ensure a Humane End for Birds," HSUS, 11/21/05

5. Actual Lawsuit / Complaint from HSUS and EBAA, filed 11/21/05
PDF file (1.0 MB):

2. Allegations of Abuse at California Slaughterhouse and Virginia Truck Accident

In Los Angeles, the non-governmental Bureau of Humane Law Enforcement (BHLE) seized more than 7,000 animals from a slaughterhouse accused of horribly neglecting and mistreating animals. According to a BHLE notice, the slaughterhouse held "thousands of sick and dying animals (who) were confined to small cages with no food or water, and desperately in need of medical attention." The seized animals include more than 7,000 quails, 50 sheep, goats, chickens, and an emu, all of whom have been taken to a farm where they will be given sanctuary. In a separate incident in Virginia, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is seeking animal cruelty charges against Smithfield Foods following an October 2005 trucking accident in which 74 pigs were killed. PETA says the pigs were deprived of the emergency medical care required by Virginia state law, and that its offer to bring in veterinarians was rebuked by Smithfield management. The accident occurred with a Smithfield subsidiary employee fell asleep at the wheel of a truck transporting 200 pigs to slaughter. Some of the injured pigs were killed using a captive bolt gun, but only after several hours of suffering without receiving any attention from caretakers, according to PETA.

1. "BHLE Officers Rescue Over 7,000 Animals from Los Angeles Slaughterhouse," BHLE, 11/17/05

2. "PETA Asks Prosecutor to Charge Meatpacker with Animal Cruelty," Daily Press / AP, 11/17/05,0,1684680.story

3. The Human Impact of Treating Farmed Animals with Hormones and Antibiotics

Two recent articles underscore the impact of using hormones and antibiotics on farmed animals in the US, including comparisons to Europe where most such additives are banned. Europe has banned the import of hormone-tainted "beef" from the US since 1989 and also forbids the sale of hormone-treated cows' milk based on evidence that such hormones promote early sexual development in children. Nonetheless, the use of hormones in the US remains allowed and some say it goes unregulated. According to Dr. Samuel Epstein of the University of Illinois at Chicago, "We're dealing with a bunch of cowboys. There's no inspection. Even if the hormones are administered properly, it's not good." Epstein says that a young boy who eats two hamburgers in one day could raise his hormone levels by as much as 10%, which may increase the risk of cancer and other diseases. The use of hormones could also be a factor in the 88% rise in prostate cancer in the US since 1975, according to Epstein.

The widespread use of antibiotics on animal farms may also pose a significant human health threat. According to the Organic Consumers Association, 80% of all antibiotics in the US are used on animals "to make them fatten up and enable them to survive unhygienic confinement in factory farms." The threat is emphasized by a recent University of Minnesota study showing that vegetables were contaminated when sprayed with the waste of animals treated with antibiotics. The study found that some vegetables (corn, cabbage, onions) absorbed the antibiotic chlortetracycline when sprayed with waste from pigs treated with the drug. The article appears in the November-December 2005 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality; see below for a link to the abstract.

1. "Chemical Farm," AlterNet, 11/22/05

2. "Researchers Find Animal Antibiotics in Vegetables," Nutra Ingredients, 11/22/05

3. "Antibiotic Uptake by Plants from Soil Fertilized with Animal Manure," Journal of Environmental Quality, 10/12/05

4. BSE: GAO Criticizes FDA on Feed Ban; Prions May Show Up in Dairy Products

FEED BAN: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to face criticism from within and without the government for its handling of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)-related testing. The most recent critique comes from a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report which says that the FDA's pilot program to test ruminant animal feed for illegal animal parts has been mismanaged. According to the GAO, "For nearly half the 989 samples, FDA took longer than 30 days from the date the sample was collected until the date the laboratory completed its analysis' including 21 samples that took longer than 100 days… FDA managers in headquarters did not adequately oversee the feed testing program." The GAO previously issued a report in March 2005 that criticized the FDA for "overstating" the cow farming industry's compliance with the feed ban; see FAW 5-11, "Other Items."

PRIONS IN MILK: The risk to humans of contracting BSE may be more widespread that previously thought, according to new studies from researchers in Switzerland and Canada. A team of Swiss scientists found the folded proteins called "prions" in sheep's mammary glands, indicating that BSE may be transmissible through milk and other dairy products. According to the lead scientist, "It turns out that if you have an inflammation of the mammary gland, the milk is full of macrophages. So it's not hard from there to infer that eventually you will end up with prions in the milk." The researchers stress that currently the risk to humans is small, but the findings suggest a potentially much broader BSE threat. The research is published in the November 2005 issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

1. "GAO Scalds FDA on Feed Ban,", 11/10/05 (Registration)

2. Abstract of GAO Recommendation, 10/11/05

3. "Cause of Mad Cow Diseases May be Found in Milk: Study," Canadian Press, 11/17/05 (

4. "PrPSc in Mammary Glands of Sheep Affected by Scrapie and Mastitis," Nature Medicine, Nov-2005

5. U.S. Consumers: Adults Unaware of Dietary Guidelines; Goat Consumption Rises

DIETARY GUIDELINES: Despite record rates of overweight and obesity in the United States, 84% of US adults try to eat a well-balanced diet, according to a new survey from Parade Magazine, sponsored by ConAgra. The survey of 2,088 adults found that one in four pays no attention at all to nutrition labels and one in four is not aware that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had recently revised the recommended dietary guidelines. Interestingly, three in four US adults (76%) believe that it would be unhealthy to give up an entire "food group" as defined by the USDA.

GOAT CONSUMPTION: The slaughter of goats for human consumption is a growing trend in the United States, with domestic slaughter increasing 81% from 1996 to 2003. (Also see FAW 5-33). Over the same seven-year period, US imports of goat flesh from Australia and New Zealand rose by 140%, suggesting an even greater increase in domestic consumption. According to a recent government report, consumption of goat flesh is expected to increase by 42% from 2003 to 2007 as the trend continues.

1. "Americans Don't Follow Food Guidelines," MeatNews, 11/16/05

2. "America's Eating Habits," CBS News, 11/10/05

3. "No Kidding: Americans Acquiring Taste for Goat,", 11/21/05,0,6957172.story

6. Other Items of Interest

"Regulations to Reduce the Suffering of Veal Calves in Israel," Anonymous for Animal Rights / WSPA, 11/21/05
The Israeli parliament's education committee has approved sweeping regulations for the raising and slaughtering of veal calves. Farmers have three years to implement the changes, but must immediately start providing calves with unlimited access to drinking water. The new regulations come as the result of efforts by Israel-based Anonymous for Animal Rights with the support of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

"China to Vaccinate Entire Poultry Stock," China Daily, 11/15/05
China has announced a government-funded effort to vaccinate all of the country's 14 billion farmed birds to protect them against the transmission of avian influenza. The announcement comes as China faces more outbreaks in bird populations and the possibility of its first case of transmission to humans. However, some experts are concerned that vaccinating so many birds will prove logistically unfeasible; China is home to almost 21% of the world's farmed birds.

"N.B. Salmon Freed in 'Nightmare' Scenario: Scientist," CBC News, 11/17/05
Approximately 100,000 immature salmon were intentionally freed from underwater cages at an aquaculture farm in New Brunswick, Canada in an act described as "vandalism." This is the fourth time the farm has been vandalized and has created what a scientist with the Atlantic Salmon Federation calls a "nightmare scenario" regarding the possible impact on wild salmon populations.

"Whole Foods May Say Adieu to Lobsters," CNN Money, 11/16/05
Natural foods retailer Whole Foods Market has given itself a deadline of June 15, 2006 to devise a humane way of procuring lobsters for sale, or else it will discontinue selling them. According to John Mackay, the company's CEO, "We are viewing the lobster as a live creature rather than a commodity that deserves no concern. Just because we sell lobsters and have customers who will buy them is not a compelling argument to maintain the status quo."

"Concerns Raised on Slaughter Bill," BBC News, 11/23/05
Animal advocates in Scotland are attempting to stop passage of a new animal health bill that they say could lead to the widespread use of culling to prevent outbreaks of disease. One Scottish Minister of Parliament said his concern is that, "in effect, ministers could order the culling of thousands of animals without having to give any explanation." The UK conducted massive culling operations in 2001 to contain a widespread outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease.

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Compiled and edited by Hedy Litke and Che Green, Farmed Animal Watch is a free weekly electronic news digest of information concerning farmed animal issues gleaned from an array of academic, industry, advocacy and mainstream media sources.