Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (US)


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (P.L. 85-765; 7 U.S.C. 1901 et seq.), first passed in 1958, is an effort to reduce the pain and suffering experienced by farm animals in the slaughter process. The Act specifically applies to calves, cattle, horses, mules, swine and sheep, and other livestock, but has been interpreted as excluding chickens.

The law states that animals are to be slaughtered in humane ways. The Act provides two conditions that fulfill the requirements for humane slaughter of animals.

(1) In the case of cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock, all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut; or

(2) by slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Islamic and Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument and handling in connection with such slaughtering.

An animal is considered appropriately stunned by the methods above when it does not attempt to right itself, that is stand. Once stunned and disabled, animals must be moved on equipment suitable for such a purpose.
Not all livestock that reach the slaughter house are suitable for slaughter and consumption. Such livestock (dying diseased, and nonambulatory) must be removed to a suitable pen that protects them from the weather, where they can lie down, and where they are provided food and water until their fate is decided.

In general, violations of the Act are treated as civil violations, but individuals may be charged with criminal violations where they knowingly move an animal in violation of the Act and in violation of its movement guidelines/ Criminal penalties may result in a fine and/or imprisonment of up to 5 years. Multiple violations may lead to a fine and imprisonment of up to ten years

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