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Workers’ Rights Groups Join Lawsuit Challenging Inhumane Slaughter of Birds

by East Bay Animal Advocates
Groups Representing Poultry Workers Cite Slaughterhouse Heath and Safety Concerns
SAN FRANCISCO (March 9, 2006) —Today, the Equal Justice Center and Western North Carolina Workers’ Center—two organizations dedicated to improving agricultural worker safety and rights—joined The Humane Society of the United States’ and East Bay Animal Advocates' lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) exclusion of chickens, turkeys, and other birds killed for human consumption from the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958.

The groups have joined the lawsuit because current poultry slaughter practices are not only inhumane, but also cause unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, raising the risk of worker injury in slaughterhouses.

“Slaughterhouse workers must struggle to hang terrified birds upside down at incredible speeds. As a result, they suffer serious injuries such as lacerations, broken bones, repetitive motion injuries, and respiratory problems from inhaling dust, dirt, and feces,” explains Anita Grabowski, Coordinator of EJC’s Poultry Worker Project. “These incredibly abusive and undignified workplace practices could be eliminated if more humane slaughter methods were adopted.”

Last fall, the USDA issued a public notice informing poultry slaughter facilities that they need not comply with the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires that animals be “rendered insensible to pain” before being processed for slaughter. 7 U.S.C. § 1902. This policy allows processors to slaughter more than 9 billion birds each year using such inhumane and dangerous methods as shackling them upside down, electrically stunning them into paralysis, and sometimes even drowning them in tanks of scalding water—all while they are fully conscious.

As a result of inhumane slaughter practices, more than 200,000 employees nationwide are endangered in filthy, bloody, and dark working conditions. If the USDA required facilities to humanely slaughter birds, the animals would be stunned and immobilized before the workers processed them under regular lighting conditions, decreasing contamination, injuries, and stress. One plant in Nebraska humanely slaughtering poultry has seen turnover among hangers drop by at least
75 percent since the new system was installed.

“Current slaughter methods are inherently dangerous and take a devastating emotional toll on the workers who must witness and participate in these cruelties,” says Francisco Risso, director of the Western North Carolina Workers’ Center. “The USDA’s refusal to apply the federal humane slaughter law to poultry significantly and negatively impacts the day-to-day lives of thousands of workers who are doing some of the most difficult and thankless work in our society.”

A copy of the amended complaint, which also includes East Bay Animal Advocates and several individuals as co-plaintiffs, is available upon request by calling 301-721-6446.

Equal Justice Center is a Southern employment justice and civil rights organization which provides the critical support and infrastructure that enables low-income working people to organize and achieve fair treatment in the workplace, in the justice system, and in the larger civil society. EJC’s Poultry Worker Project is a regional initiative across the South which builds the capacity of poultry workers to improve their working conditions, to organize to stop exploitation, and to play a direct role in ensuring that poultry companies maintain responsible relationships with their employees and with the communities in which they are located. On the web at

Western North Carolina Workers’ Center is a non-profit organization based in Morganton, North Carolina, that works to improve the wages, benefits, and working conditions of low-wage workers in the western part of the state.

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization with 9.5 million members and constituents. The HSUS is a mainstream voice for animals, with active programs in companion animals and equine protection, disaster preparedness and response, wildlife and habitat protection, animals in research and farm animal welfare. The HSUS protects all animals through education, investigation, litigation, legislation, advocacy, and field work. The non-profit organization is based in Washington and has field representatives and offices across the country. On the web at

East Bay Animal Advocates
P.O. Box 1406
Martinez, CA 94553
(925) 487-4419
info [at]
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