Powerful investigative footage by Animal Outlook exposes heartbreaking cruelty to birds inside a Maryland slaughterhouse — one of 24 chicken plants allowed by the USDA to operate at dangerously fast kill line speeds.
In 2018, an Animal Outlook investigator worked inside this Hurlock, Maryland high-speed facility that kills up to 175 birds each minute. That’s as many as over one million birds every week.
Most facilities operate at the already staggering rate of killing up to 140 birds per minute, and workers are forced to keep birds moving down the rapidly running kill line as quickly as possible, at risks to their safety and animal welfare.
Up until last month, 20 plants were allowed to operate at the high-speed rate of killing 175 birds per minute. Despite alarming problems present at high-speed plants — including what AO caught on camera at Amick Farms — the USDA recently allowed four more chicken slaughter plants to increase their speeds.
Not surprisingly, the National Chicken Council has urged the federal agency to entirely remove all caps on line speeds. The agency denied this request, but instead of abolishing the dangerous and inhumane program altogether as it should, the government plans on granting more waivers to individual plants to run up to 175 birds per minute like Amick Farms.
Even before arriving at the slaughterhouse, birds endure egregious abuse, severe overcrowding, filthy conditions, and the painful, crippling effects of unnaturally rapid growth.
At Amick and in other slaughterhouses operating with these increased line speeds, birds can endure suffering beyond cruel standard practices.
“USDA’s plan to allow even more slaughterhouses to increase kill line speeds that are already dangerously fast is a reckless step backwards. Animals, workers, and consumers need more protection, not less.” --Erica Meier, President, Animal Outlook
Amick Farms Investigation Photos
Life of a Chicken
No Protection, From Hatch to Slaughter
There are no federal laws whatsoever protecting chickens who are raised for food — from the moment they hatch to the moment they are killed. At just a fews old, baby birds are dumped by the thousands into massive sheds where they’ll spend their short lives standing, eating, and sleeping in their own waste. After about six weeks, they’re grabbed by their legs or wings and stuffed into cages, loaded onto transport trucks and shipped out to slaughter, enduring long drives without food, water, or protection from extreme weather.
Once at the slaughterhouse, the young birds are dumped onto conveyor belts and shackled upside down by their legs. Shockingly, birds are exempted from protections under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act — and research finds many chickens may still be conscious when their throats are cut. With as many as 140 birds killed each minute in a single plant, mistakes are common and can often go unnoticed. This means that many birds are likely conscious when they’re dragged through tanks of scalding hot water. These horrors are happening at the already dangerous current average line speed of killing 140 birds per minute. But some in the chicken industry, like this Amick Farms facility, are making matters worse by killing as many as 175 birds per minute. Alarmingly, the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA is actively granting waivers to allow even more slaughter plants to run at this reckless speed. As AO’s new investigation reveals, faster lines could mean more suffering.
“Frankenbirds:” Unnatural & Painful Rapid Growth
To the industry, speed equals money, and the animals pay the price: As the chicken industry aims to increase its already dangerously fast slaughter lines, this same industry genetically manipulates birds to grow as fast (and as large) as possible. To maximize profits, birds raised for meat are bred to grow unnaturally large, extremely fast. If a human baby grew at the same rate, she’d weigh 660 pounds at just two months of age. Many young chicks suffer from leg deformities, their underdeveloped legs crumpling under the weight of their own morbidly obese bodies.
An In-Depth Look Inside the Chicken Industry
After watching Animal Outlook’s new investigation of Amick Farms, learn more about the lives of all farmed chickens at our ChickenIndustry.com site, which offers a deep and evolving look inside the industry, progress in the right direction, and ways you can help birds today.
Pledge to leave chickens off your plate. Act Now to pledge and find more ways to help birds today.
Compounded by the reckless speed at which the slaughter line is allowed to run at Amick Farms and other high-speed plants, animals can endure even greater suffering, as workers are forced to take inhumane shortcuts, as well as during machinery break-downs.
These workers, too, endure the negative impacts of increased line speeds. While working there even for a short time, AO’s investigator suffered crippling pain and other hand injuries. Our investigator suffered swollen knuckles so severe the investigator’s hand could not close and the fingers would not touch when extended.
In the filthy and fast-paced assembly-line environment, many workers also removed their shirts in the extreme heat, putting themselves at further risk as they operated dangerous machinery without even basic protection.
This is the second time in just a few years that an Animal Outlook investigation has exposed the horrors of high-speed slaughter, yet the USDA continues to move forward with its dangerous program.
In late 2015, an Animal Outlook investigator worked inside Quality Pork Processors, a high-speed pig slaughter plant supplying Hormel Foods revealing pigs shocked, dragged, and pulled to the kill floor; pigs covered in feces and pus-filled abscesses processed for human consumption with a USDA seal of approval; and more.
We have since delivered more than a quarter million signatures against high-speed pig slaughter to the USDA. Join us as we now apply pressure to put the brakes on high-speed chicken slaughter, too. Sign and share our new petition today.
“Birds can be seen–still hanging from the shackles–in the water bath…it is likely that the birds would have experienced prolonged, possibly painful electrical shock while they died of drowning. This situation is totally unacceptable from an animal welfare perspective.” --Dr. Sara Shields
in an expert statement in response to Animal Outlook’s footage
UPDATE - Amick responds: In a statement to the Washington Post, Amick Farms President Ben Harrison says: "Some of the actions in the video are clear violations of our animal welfare policies and our company values. We are taking all appropriate actions including, but not limited to, further training, swift disciplinary action, and a more rigorous approach to ensuring compliance with our policies for the humane handling of our birds.” Read Amick’s full, yet insufficient, statement which falls short of taking full corporate responsibility for the cruelty caught on hidden camera when the company thought no one was watching.
You Can Stand Up for Chickens and All Animals!
Animal Outlook's brave investigators shed light into the darkest corners of factory farming, exposing the miseries forced upon farmed animals kept hidden behind closed doors.
Sadly, the abuses documented at Amick Farms are not isolated incidents. This chicken slaughterhouse is one of more than 20 currently allowed to operate at cruel and dangerous increased speeds, with the USDA potentially granting waivers to other plants soon.
Furthermore, throughout the chicken industry, birds endure egregious abuse and the crippling effects of rapid growth.
Thankfully, there are simple steps YOU — and each one of us — can take to make a difference for birds and all farmed animals today!