Ninth Circuit Rules Against Turkeys

It is almost Thanksgiving and Americans will consume millions of turkeys this year to celebrate the holiday.

You probably know that the majority of these turkeys are mass produced on turkey farms.

What you probably didn’t know is that the slaughter of turkeys (along with poultry and other fowl) is not regulated.  For whatever reason, the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) does not interpret the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 (“HMSA”) to cover birds.  The HMSA mandates humane methods of slaughter for cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, goats, and other “livestock.”  The HMSA defines “humane methods” of slaughter to require, among other things, that animals be rendered insensible to pain prior to slaughter.  But yet, the HMSA does not currently cover turkeys and other birds.

So, animal-rights activists (the “plaintiffs”) brought a lawsuit against the USDA to challenge its interpretation that the HMSA does not apply to birds.  The plaintiffs claimed that “inhumane methods” of  slaughter increased the risk of food-borne illnesses to plaintiff consumers; and jeopardized the health and  safety of plaintiff poultry workers.

Last year the district court agreed with the USDA’s interpretation of the statute, and ruled against the plaintiffs.  Plaintiffs appealed.

On Friday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals avoided the statutory construction issue as to whether birds should be covered, and instead held that plaintiffs lacked standing to sue because they could not demonstrate redressability (that a favorable court decision would fix their injury).  Basing its decision on the fact that the HMSA contains no enforcement provision, the Court reasoned that a “set of speculative steps would have to occur” before redressability was even possible.

As a consequence of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, the plaintiffs (and turkeys) are out of luck.   Bird processors can continue to slaughter birds any way they choose without violating federal law or facing any real consequence.  This is not a good thing.  Stories of abuse are common.  Just recently, the Huffington Post blogged about male chicks being ground up alive at a factory chicken hatchery.  Setting aside any concern about the humanity of chick grinding, the USDA needs to regulate slaughter methods to ensure food safety and prevent the spread of disease.  (Remember the avian flu?)

The lack of regulation on bird processors is absurd.  Especially for turkeys — the bird that is the center of America’s Thanksgiving feast; the bird that Benjamin Franklin argued was the true symbol of our nation.  Don’t these animals deserve at least some type of minimum oversight with regard to their slaughter?

So Siouxsie says when President Obama pardons two turkeys this Thanksgiving, skip the birds’ fancy stay at the Willard Hotel and first-class flight  to Disneyworld (they die shortly thereafter anyway because turkeys are bred to be morbidly obese and short-lived).  Instead, President Obama should announce that he is going to give turkeys the same rights as livestock and regulate their slaughter.

* DISCLAIMER — Siouxsie is a conflicted vegetarian who wears lots of leather, and consumes a ton of eggs and cheese  (and understands that these are all products that come from slaughtered animals and/or animals that will be slaughtered eventually (yes, even the cage-free chickens that lay her eggs)).  She also doesn’t like avian flu.  So she would really like some regulations here.

**  What you can do to help:  Write to the USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and demand that bird processors be regulated with respect to handling and slaughter methods:

U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

***  Conflicted about eating a turkey this Thanksgiving — Try a Quorn Turkey (or as Siouxsie calls it a fungi turkey).

Source: Howard Bashman’s How Appealing Blog

Photo Credit:


~ by siouxsielaw on November 22, 2009.

5 Responses to “Ninth Circuit Rules Against Turkeys”

  1. quorn turkeys are amazing! i can testify!

  2. My non-vegan Marine brother-in-law loves Tofurkey, Vegan me thinks they’re alright.

  3. Possession or consumption of meat should be a class III felony, as per other narcotics. It’s amazing that people kill animals for the pleasure of eating. There are good tasting vegan alternatives, and the meat and dairy industry create a ton of waste, environmental pollution, numerous human diseases, not to mention the horrible suffering of animals doomed to death. If we all became vegan, starvation would be eliminated as a cause of death, due to the productivity of crop growth vs. the energy cost of growing animals. WAKE UP PEOPLE! IT IS NOT OK TO KILL ANIMALS FOR YOUR OWN PLEASURE!

  4. Very good article. I’ve found your site via Bing and I’m really glad about the information you provide in your articles. Btw your sites layout is really broken on the Kmelon browser. Would be really great if you could fix that. Anyhow keep up the great work!

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