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Making Chicken Salad Out of Chicken Poop: An Attempt to Get Poultry Federal Humane Welfare Protection

Making Chicken Salad Out of Chicken Poop: An Attempt to Get Poultry Federal Humane Welfare Protection

Rebecca Smith

This Note concerns the lack of federal humane welfare protection for poultry. Currently there is no federal statute or regulation that mandates how to treat poultry while they are being raised, transported, or slaughtered. The result is that poultry are raised in concentrated animal feeding operations where anywhere from 1500 to 125,000 birds live in a single building[1] and the ammonia levels get so high that some birds are found with feather loss and burns.[2] During transportation, birds can incur injuries such as broken bones, and they often die from exposure to the cold or heat.[3] During the slaughtering process, the line speed at the plants can be so fast that poultry are often improperly hung, suffer broken wings or bones, and may even be boiled alive.[4]

Who has allowed these abuses to continue? Certainly the poultry industry—an industry that continues to believe that its antibiotic use in poultry is not a threat to human health and its methods of slaughter are humane.[5] However, we should also look to Congress and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) under the auspices of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). For over fifty years both Congress and the USDA have had multiple opportunities to protect poultry welfare, and our public’s health, but they have repeatedly chosen to ignore science, animal activists, and the public’s opinion. Instead, Congress, FSIS, and the USDA have only listened to the poultry and meat industry and have allowed these acts to continue unchecked. These entities have had their opportunity to protect poultry welfare and have blatantly refused to make any changes. It is now time for the president to make these changes using the executive powers that enable him to create agencies.

Part I of this Note briefly explains the history of the poultry industry in the United States and how it has changed over the last sixty years. Part II explains three federal laws that could affect poultry: the Twenty-Eight Hour Law,[6] the Humane Method of Slaughter Act (HMSA),[7] and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA).[8] Part II also examines the legislative history of the HMSA and how Congress has had the opportunity to protect poultry welfare but has declined to do so. Part III of this Note shows the effects of the lack of humane poultry welfare laws on the poultry and the public health. Part IV details different attempts by groups and congressmen to remedy this lack of legislation and shows how Congress, the USDA, and FSIS have repeatedly failed to protect poultry welfare and public health. Finally, Part VI describes solutions to this problem, including the promulgation of new humane welfare regulations under FSIS, the creation of new federal humane poultry legislation, and, finally, an executive order from the president ordering the Director of USDA to promulgate humane welfare standards for poultry.

Questions and inquiries regarding this Note may be forwarded to the author at

[1] 40 C.F.R. § 122.23(b)(1)(i); §122.23(b)(4)(viii-xiii).

[2] Compassion Over Killing, 45 Days: The Life and Death of a Broiler Chicken, YouTube (Mar. 11, 2006),

[3] The Welfare of Animals in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, A Report of the PEW Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (2008), available at

[4] Kimberly Kindy, USDA Plan to Speed up Poultry-Processing Lines Could Increase Risk of Bird Abuse, Wash. Post (Oct. 29, 2013), viewed 11/17/14.

[5] Andrew Lawler, Why did the Chicken Cross the World? The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization 219 (2014).

[6] The Twenty-Eight Hour Law, 49 U.S.C § 80502 (1873).

[7] Humane Method of Slaughter Act, 7 U.S.C. § 1901 (1958).

[8] Poultry and Poultry Products Inspection, 21 U.S.C. § 451−72 (1957).  

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