Eggs. Billions upon billions of eggs are consumed in the United States each year. Most consumers buys eggs by the dozen and crack them open without giving a second thought to where they come from, much less what happens to the hens when they can no longer lay them.
Today, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released the first-ever footage from a slaughterhouse for spent hens. The footage was taken by an undercover investigator who spent 57 days documenting what happens to the 85,000 hens killed each day at just one slaughterhouse – Butterfield Foods in the state of Minnesota.
The most egregious abuse uncovered was scalding hens while they were still alive. Hens are supposed to be dropped into an electrified water trough to render them unconscious before having their throats slit and being dropped into scalding tanks for feather removal, but that doesn’t always happen. In a thirty minute period, the HSUS investigator counted approximately 45 birds who were drowned alive in the scalding tanks. It’s the most grisly end possible for animals who spent their entire caged lives in a space smaller than a sheet of paper.
Even though chickens and turkeys represent 9 out of 10 animals who are slaughtered in the U.S., the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act exempts them. Nonetheless, HSUS invoked Minnesota’s anti-cruelty code to file a complaint with the state. The organization also filed a complaint with the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service on the grounds that Butterfield is violating the Poultry Products Inspection Act.
The hens slaughtered at Butterfield are transported in crates from factory farms all over the country. During their long journey, the hens, who are already battered after spending their lives in battery cages, are deprived of food, water, space to move and protection from the weather. The investigator documented birds who arrived dead; with broken bones; and covered in feces.
When the trucks arrive at Butterfield, workers grab the frantic hens out of the crates with a metal hook, shackle them upside down, and send them on a conveyer belt from an electrified water trough to a neck cutting station to a scalding tank. The investigator witnessed hens attempting to right themselves; hens who missed the electrified trough; and hens who had their necks sliced while fully conscious. Some hens arrived alive and bleeding at the scalding tank where they were boiled.
Who eats spent hens? Their bodies, which were bred to lay eggs, have very little meat. In addition, hens often have broken bones which splinter into the flesh. Paul Shapiro, HSUS’ VP for Farm Animal Protection, says that most this low-grade meat, valued at 2 cents/bird, is used for farm animals and pet food. At Butterfield, however, the meat is canned for human consumption and sold to discount stores.
Hens can live for over a decade, but, on factory farms, they are sent to the slaughterhouse at 12 – 18 months, which is when they stop laying eggs.
The best way to prevent this cruelty is to stop eating chickens and their eggs. But you can also help by urging the United States Secretary of Agriculture at the USDA to include poultry under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.