Chickens slammed into walls, strangled, punched, kicked and their heads ripped off could be set for our dinner plates under a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.
Appalling welfare incidents include birds killed by being dropped from forklifts, “grossly mangled” and crushed.
They have been left to drown in tanks filled with electrified water and tens of thousands have perished in extreme heat or cold, a Mirror probe has found.
Animals right groups have witnessed horrific sights after managing to obtain jobs on farms and in processing plants.
And shocking cruelty documented by the US Department of Agriculture has been obtained in a freedom of information request by Animal Welfare Institute.
The charity, which is suing the US Government over the treatment, warned consumers in the UK to be “concerned about the prospect of poultry from the US on their supermarket shelves”.
“It is likely the products came from animals who suffered greatly,” said Dena Jones, director of the Farm Animal Program at the AWI.
“Each year US slaughterhouse inspectors document the suffering of tens of thousands of birds from suffocation, blunt force trauma, and heat or cold stress before reaching the slaughter line.
“This suffering is caused by neglect, inadequate worker training, faulty equipment, and intentional acts of cruelty – all of it is entirely preventable.
“Inhumane handling of poultry affects not only the birds but also the quality and safety of the meat that the consumer buys. Meat from mistreated birds is more likely to be of poor quality and contaminated with pathogens.”
The AWI have detailed a 2015 undercover probe by non-profit organisation Mercy For Animals that documented workers throwing, shoving and punching birds during shackling.
The heads of shackled birds were pulled off while alive.
Workers were said to have also ripped feathers out of living birds “for fun”, intentionally suffocated birds on conveyor belts and shackled “sick and injured birds, including some with broken bones on the slaughter line.”
On February 21, at Butterfield Foods Company in Minnesota, an inspector found 9,150 birds frozen to death.
They wrote: “I observed many hens frozen to the metal cages in the trailer. I also observed significant numbers of dead hens.
“Nearly every hen visible from the outside of the trailer on the bottom two rows were frozen solid, as were many hens throughout the trailer on the outside layers.
“The hens throughout the trailer were quiet and still. Some birds were observed shivering. The hens had almost no feathers.”
In March last year, an inspector at a Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Nacogdoches, Texas, discovered birds “lying on the ground in a puddle of blood with both their legs ripped off” after they became caught in the production line.
In July 2018 another inspector found hundreds of dead birds at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Lufkin, Texas.
“There were multiple dead birds in the cages, and the live birds could be seen panting excessively. With temperatures over 100 degrees for the day, the birds were dying of heat exhaustion.”
One of the worst cases occurred in January 2018 at a Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Natchitoches, Louisana, in which 34,050 birds were reported dead on arrival. It was noted: “The day was cold, and there was a brisk wind. Some of the birds and the bottoms of the coups were wet.” But the total number of birds killed inhumanely is difficult to count as inspectors are not always present.
AWI and the animal protection organisation Farm Sanctuary are calling on the US Department of Agriculture to develop regulations at federally inspected slaughter facilities.
Dena explained why campaigners have filed the lawsuit, saying: “Chickens, turkeys and other birds raised for meat in the US aren’t protected by any state or federal laws. The poultry industry wields significant power, and doesn’t want to be regulated.”
Leah Garcés, president of the Mercy For Animals, said: “Each year in the US, nine billion chickens are crammed into dark warehouses – so unsanitary the meat is soaked in chlorine.
“Chickens are bred to grow so large, so fast that many cannot walk without pain. Conditions aren’t much better in the UK.”
Public health experts have warned that pumping animals with antibiotics is giving rise to antibiotic-resistant superbugs, she added.
“Britain should swiftly pass legislation to reduce the suffering of these intelligent, sensitive animals, and protect consumers, rather than purchase US poultry produced in cruel, unsafe conditions.”