The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been sued for a third time in recent weeks over its poultry handling practices.

On Thursday, Aug. 13, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Farm Sanctuary sued the USDA for failing to require humane handling of poultry at slaughter, resulting in “adulterated products” that violate the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA).

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The plaintiffs argue that slaughterhouses violate PPIA by allowing inhumane practices which include killing hundreds to thousands of birds by exposure to extreme weather, blunt force trauma, and asphyxiation. Investigations revealed that birds were also subjected to intentional acts of cruelty by workers, including being kicked, hit, strangled, crushed, or dumped onto conveyor belts with visibly broken legs and wings.

Inhumane practices increase the likelihood that poultry products will be damaged or contaminated as the birds come in closer contact with contaminants like listeria between bird carcasses, equipment, and workers’ hands.

“Chickens and other birds suffer egregious cruelty at US slaughterhouses,” said Gene Baur, president, and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary. “The USDA has failed to provide basic humane consideration, allowing callous abuse and irresponsible killing methods that threaten our health and humanity, and are outside the bounds of acceptable conduct in a society that purports to care about compassion.” The plaintiffs are represented by Katherine Meyer, director of Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic, with the assistance of several law students who helped draft the complaint.

On Monday, July 27, Farm Sanctuary and Mercy for Animals joined the federal lawsuit filed by the Humane Society of the United States against the USDA. The organizations accused the USDA of incentivizing the cruel confinement of birds in factory farms and increasing the risk of disease outbreaks.

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The lawsuit calls upon the USDA link federal funds to the implementation of strategies that would give birds more space and reduce the risk of a disease outbreak. The current overcrowded conditions are extremely conducive for the spread of disease.

USDA faced another lawsuit from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, local unions representing 10 plants in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Missouri, and the nonprofit consumer advocacy group, Public Citizen.

The lawsuit argues that allowing companies to slaughter birds more quickly endangers workers and furthers the risk of the coronavirus because faster lines speeds make adequate social distancing nearly impossible and increased the potential for accidents related to the bird and the employee.

Line speeds have been the topic of conversation since the start of the pandemic–the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Outlook, Mercy For Animals, Government Accountability Project, and Marin Humane filed a joint lawsuit in February against the USDA over its increased line speeds.

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Bills in both the House and Senate have been introduced to stop companies from increasing production line speeds at slaughterhouses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the meat industry continues to struggle from the effects of the pandemic, their inhumane practices are being called out by animal rights organizations, labor unions, and members of Congress for endangering public health.

Read more about Sen. Booker’s Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act and sign this petition telling the USDA to stop increasing line speeds.

Check out these articles about the meat industry and coronavirus:

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