DA's Decision Shows Need For Update To Humane Slaughter Law

By Bruce Friedrich

A West Virginia county prosecutor's decided this month not to press charges against any of the slaughterhouse employees caught on videotape grotesquely abusing chickens at the Pilgrim's Pride plant in Moorefield, which supplies chickens to fast food giant KFC, because, she told the Associated Press, "these were chickens in a slaughterhouse." How can this be?

Remarkably, chickens, turkeys and other birds are not included in the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the only federal law that offers any sort of protection to farmed animals. Clearly it's time for Congress to change the Act so that these animals have legal protection.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released the gruesome videotape last July. Taken by an undercover investigator, the tape shows slaughterhouse workers stomping birds, kicking them and slamming them against floors and walls. Employees ripped the animals' beaks off, twisted their heads off, spat tobacco into their eyes and mouths, spray-painted their faces and tied their legs together "for laughs."

Dan Rather echoed the views of all compassionate Americans when he said on the CBS Evening News, "There's no mistaking what [the video] depicts: cruelty to animals, chickens horribly mistreated before they're slaughtered for a fast-food chain."

If dogs and cats were treated as heinously as these chickens, the perpetrators would be prosecuted. Even the approximately 150 million cattle, pigs and sheep slaughtered each year in the United States have some legal protection under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Yet the 9.5 billion birds who are slaughtered for food each year have no federal protection whatsoever. They are denied even a humane death and protection from outright sadism in our nation's slaughterhouses.

There is no logical basis for this prejudice against chickens. They are just as deserving of compassion and respect as any other animal. Like other animals, they feel love, happiness and fear. They actually score higher on animal intelligence tests than do dogs or cats and, of course, they feel pain in the same way.

In their natural surroundings, chickens spend their day foraging for food, making nests, roosting in trees and taking sun and dust baths. They exist in stable social groups and can recognize each other by their facial features. Like us, chickens form strong family ties and mourn when they lose a loved one.

We need a bit of sanity in the federal humane slaughter law. Readers who are among the 80 percent of Americans who support strong Federal protection for farmed animals should contact their Congressional representatives to tell them that they would like to see the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act amended to include poultry. It's the least we can do for these animals.

Bruce Friedrich is the Director of Farmed Animal Campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. For a free Vegetarian Starter Kit, call 1-888-VEG FOOD.

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