A federal judge ruled this week that a lawsuit filed against the US Department of Agriculture for failing to require humane handling of poultry at slaughter will move forward.

In August of 2020, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Farm Sanctuary, represented by Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic, sued the USDA in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York to address the systematic mistreatment of poultry at slaughter, which can compromise food safety and meat quality in violation of the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA). The lawsuit calls on the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to develop regulations governing the handling of chickens, turkeys, and other birds at federally inspected slaughter facilities.

In 2013, AWI and Farm Sanctuary petitioned the FSIS to use the authority granted to it by Congress to codify poultry humane handling standards into enforceable regulations. After a six-year delay, the FSIS responded that it had no jurisdiction to enforce humane handling of birds at slaughter and maintained that the current approach of voluntary compliance is adequate.

The USDA moved to dismiss the suit, but U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa sided with the plaintiffs, who are represented by Katherine Meyer, director of Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic, with the assistance of several law students who helped draft the complaint.

The Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School is committed to analyzing and improving the treatment of animals by the legal system. In 2019, it launched the Animal Law & Policy Clinic to provide students with direct hands-on experience in animal advocacy on behalf of both captive animals and wildlife, including litigation, legislation, administrative practice, and policymaking.