The 1958 law requires that pigs, cows and a list of other animals be free from neglect, abuse and pain as they make their way through a packing plant. The law excludes poultry.

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DES MOINES, Iowa — As Americans prepare to consume some 45 million turkeys on Thanksgiving, an animal-rights group asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Wednesday to require more humane treatment for turkeys, chicken and other poultry as the birds are sent to slaughter.

California-based Mercy For Animals filed a petition with the USDA that seeks to have poultry covered under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The 1958 law requires that pigs, cows and a list of other animals be free from neglect, abuse and pain as they make their way through a packing plant. The law excludes poultry.

“Chickens, turkeys and other birds are every bit as capable of experiencing pain and suffering as the cows, pigs and sheep who are protected under the humane-slaughter act, and it simply makes no sense to exclude these animals from equal protection under the law,” said Vandhana Bala, an attorney for Mercy For Animals.

A USDA spokeswoman said the agency didn’t have an immediate comment.

Tom Super, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council, a trade group for companies that raise chickens for meat, said including poultry in the law is unnecessary, in part because poultry processors “already have strong moral and financial motivation to ensure chickens are handled properly.” At least one large poultry producer, Perdue Farms, has already made changes.

Nearly 9 billion chickens raised for meat were slaughtered last year, along with 243 million turkeys and 27 million ducks, according to the USDA.

The petition, filed with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, alleges that cases have been documented of chickens scalded to death in tanks of hot water or having legs and wings cut off by beheading machines while alive and conscious.

Such violations in a beef- or pork-processing plant would result in punitive action by regulators.