The Humane Slaughter Act (7 U.S.C. §§ 1901-1906), passed in 1958, was designed to prevent animal suffering during slaughter. By its terms, the act applies to "cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock." The Act provides that slaughterhouses must use humane methods, which includes a requirement that animals be rendered insensible to pain prior to slaughter.
The USDA issued a Notice in September of 2005, stating that there is no federal statute governing the humane slaughter of poultry, and recommending that the industry voluntarily adopt measures to improve slaughterhouse conditions.
The Humane Society and several of its members (along with assorted other plaintiffs including John Doe workers from poultry processing plants, and two animal species) took issue with the USDA's reading of federal law, and sued the U.S.D.A. in the Northern District of California (Case file #05-4764).
The Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that the phrase "and other livestock" is plenty broad to include poultry. The Plaintiffs allege that current slaughter practices are not only inhumane, but they also pose serious risks to consumers--such as an increased risk that a bird not stunned before slaughter will attempt to escape and spread dust and dirt, or inhale fecal matter (obviously not what you want to eat). Plaintiffs also allege these practices increase the risk that slaughterhouse workers will be injured on the job.
Defendants responded with a combined motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6)). Defendants raised issues of standing and justiciability.
This week, the Honorable Marilyn Hall Patel permitted the suit to go forward. (The opinion is available on PACER, but you have to be a registered user and pay a fee). Judge Patel found that many of the plaintiffs (at least the human ones, she dismissed the claims of Bison bison and Rangifer tarandus) have standing. She also held the Court has jurisdiction to review the Notice under section 706(2) of the APA. Finally, the Court determined that the plaintiffs have established that the issues are redressible.
Stay tuned for further updates on this interesting case.