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USDA denies 230K signature petition calling for protection of chickens

Boxes of 230,000 signatures for a petition calling for the protection of chickens were delivered to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Wednesday, March 7, 2018 (Scott Taylor, ABC7)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) — The Feds just said no to demands that chickens be added to a federal law that ensures humane ways to kill livestock. Now, an animal rights group could sue the government.

Earlier this month, Mercy For Animals headed into the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to hand over 230,000 signatures demanding that chickens, turkeys and ducks be better protected before they end up on a plate.

Stephanie Wilson with Mercy For Animals said, "We are actually bringing 230,000 signatures to the USDA supporting our petition to put into place simple common sense regulations to stop birds from literally being tortured to death."

The Humane Methods Slaughter Act, first approved in 1958, states livestock must be rendered insensible to pain.

Chickens, turkey's and ducks are not named in the Act.

The National Chicken Council who represents the Broiler Chicken Industry in Washington, D.C. says:

"Chicken companies already have strong moral and financial motivation to ensure chickens are handled properly. Each chicken represents an investment by the processor, and mishandling chickens is not in a processor’s financial interest. Any abuse is not tolerated by the industry nor FSIS. This whole process is routinely audited internally, by customers and by independent third parties and monitored on a continuous basis by FSIS inspectors."

The USDA just handed down its decision to deny Mercy For Animals petition telling 7 On Your Side :

“FSIS has denied Mercy for Animals’ petition to initiate rulemaking to include poultry as “livestock” under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) and as “amenable species.” Because the HMSA does not cover poultry, FSIS does not have the authority to address these issues or to add poultry to the HMSA.
In August 1958, Congress passed the HMSA, which prescribes methods of handling and slaughtering cattle, sheep, swine, and other livestock. Although the HMSA does not define the term “other livestock,” the enactment of the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) and the HMSA by the 85th Congress suggest that Congress understood there to be a distinction between livestock and poultry. Based on this we believe that Congress’ intent was that the HMSA only applies to livestock. FSIS is following this intent unless directed otherwise. “

"The USDA's horrific decision is simply out of step with American values. A recent survey found that 3 out of 4 Americans agree that this cruel and violent slaughter method should be completely banned," said Kenny Torrella with Mercy For Animals.

Torrella says Mercy For Animals is now looking at all legal avenues to continue its effort to change the Humane Act including the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the USDA.

Mercy For Animals says the Humane Act only covers two percent of animals killed and birds make up 98 percent of all animals that end up as food.

This story was updated on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, at 7:11 p.m.

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WASHINGTON (WJLA) — Mercy For Animals heads into the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to hand over 230,000 signatures demanding that chickens, turkeys and ducks be better protected before they end up on a plate.

Stephanie Wilson with Mercy For Animals says "We are actually bringing 230,000 signatures to the USDA supporting our petition to put into place simple common sense regulations to stop birds from literally being tortured to death."

The Humane Methods Slaughter Act, first approved in 1958, states livestock must be rendered insensible to pain.

Chickens, turkey's and ducks are not named in the Act.

The National Chicken Council who reps the Broiler Chicken Industry in Washington, D.C. says

"Chicken companies already have strong moral and financial motivation to ensure chickens are handled properly. Each chicken represents an investment by the processor, and mishandling chickens is not in a processor’s financial interest. Any abuse is not tolerated by the industry nor FSIS. This whole process is routinely audited internally, by customers and by independent third parties and monitored on a continuous basis by FSIS inspectors."

"Chicken slaughter is already regulated by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service under the Good Commercial Practices regulations of the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act. These regulations address poultry slaughter, and government inspectors are present for the slaughter process in every poultry processing plant."

"The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act was written specifically for cattle and other red meat species – very large animals that must be handled in a certain way. It wasn’t designed to accommodate chicken. In fact, trying to shoehorn chicken harvesting into the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act could significantly compromise chicken welfare. It’s a square peg – round hole situation."

As with species subject to the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, all chickens are stunned and rendered senseless to pain before slaughter.

Mercy For Animals disagrees and has documented what they call abuse of chickens.

The I-Team contacted USDA which emailed: “The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) takes humane handling seriously. The Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) (21 U.S.C. 451 et seq.) and agency regulations require that live poultry must be handled in a manner that is consistent with good commercial practices, which means they should be treated humanely. FSIS received Mercy for Animals’ petition for poultry to be covered in the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The agency is currently reviewing the petition and will respond to the association once the review is complete.”

Stephanie Wilson with Mercy For Animals says "All we are asking is that the USDA require that birds be rendered unconscious and insensible to pain before they are killed for food. There are no federal regulations for humane handling of poultry. The PPIA addresses food safety only, and USDA inspectors have no meaningful enforcement authority when they see animal cruelty. I have seen the USDA’s own inspection records, and they are horrific. USDA inspectors have documented chickens being slashed across the face or the chest by the kill blade because they’ve been improperly hung, more than 100 chickens being scalded alive at a time, and bruised and battered bodies of birds being discarded because they’re unfit for food. But the fact that USDA inspectors are already in poultry slaughterhouses is another reason to grant our petition, which would simply empower USDA inspectors to take enforcement action when they see cruelty like this. But Agriculture Secretary Perdue and Deputy Administrator Carmen Rottenberg have so far refused to give them that authority.”

ABC7 News took a look at the numbers and chicken is important to Americans. 35 million a week are killed by one of the largest suppliers in the nation and that same company only slaughters 130,000 cattle every week on average that eventually makes it into grocery stores.

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