Chickens slowly freezing to death, being boiled alive, drowned or suffocating under piles of other birds are among hundreds of shocking welfare incidents recorded at US slaughterhouses, according to previously unpublished reports.
Among them are “inexcusable” violations, say campaigners, who ask if the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) current system, where inspectors issue reports when they see violations, really works. One inspector, who asked to remain anonymous, questioned the impact of those reports.
An investigation by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism looked at hundreds of inspection logs from the USDA detailing incidents in poultry plants across the country. In recent years, inspectors recorded numerous incidents where:
Chickens suffocated to death beneath other chickens when they piled up on a conveyor belt that had stopped due to a mechanical failure.
Chickens drowned after entering the scalding tank while conscious.
Machines failed or there were incidents of staff being inadequately trained.
Thousands of birds died of heat stress after travelling or being left waiting in trucks in temperatures above 90 degrees F, or alternatively, freezing to death in extremely low temperatures.
In one incident in January, more than 34,000 chickens froze to death while being kept overnight outside a slaughterhouse in a truck.
The Guardian’s findings have fuelled concerns that a post-Brexit trade deal with the US could see the UK flooded with chicken produced to lower welfare standards. This follows last year’s transatlantic row over chlorinated chicken, which prompted political interventions in both countries.
The records include hundreds of instances in which groups of chickens and turkeys were bludgeoned, suffocated, scalded, frozen or heated to death. Inspectors note repeatedly that the plants have not put in place adequate protection from the weather while the animals wait. However, they also note that after many reports the plants do carry out retraining for workers.
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