Inspection records of poultry slaughter plants obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the animal protection group Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) reveal the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) took no or little action against companies when birds got mutilated in machinery, entered scald tanks alive, or were slammed against walls.

For their December 2023 report, AWI reviewed USDA inspection records from approximately 350 poultry plants where up to 9.7 billion chickens, turkeys, and other birds are killed annually for meat.

From 2020 to 2022, 21 processing plants received over 10 humane handling records from the USDA. Yet, the agency issued only five letters to plants for serious and recurring violations of “good commercial practices” (GCP). And none of those letters were escalated to local law enforcement entities for investigation of possible animal cruelty, according to AWI.

The most commonly cited GCP violations included live birds entering scald tanks and improper disposal of other live birds. Humane handling problems involving large numbers of birds included high dead-on-arrival rates—sometimes in the thousands—and becoming mutilated after getting stuck in conveyor belts.

The Poultry Products Inspection Act oversees poultry slaughter, but it does not require humane handling. Meanwhile, the federal Humane Slaughter of Livestock Act excludes poultry.

“The USDA’s lack of follow-through when confronted with clear evidence of poultry abuse harms both animals and consumers who care about animal welfare,” said Zack Strong, senior attorney and policy advisor for AWI’s farmed animal program. “Until the department enacts meaningful regulations to hold the industry accountable, neither slaughter companies nor their employees have any incentive to treat birds more humanely.”

You can do your part to reduce the demand for animal food products— thereby limiting animal suffering and inhumane treatment at slaughterhouses— by choosing a plant-based diet. Check out LFT’s interview with vegan podcaster Michelle Cehn to learn more.