FSIS demands better humane handling compliance

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 27, 2004
by WLJ
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently published a formal notice urging livestock processors to use a more systematic approach to ensure they are meeting the requirements of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA). In addition, the agency said it will be quicker to levy penalties against processors that violate HMSA rules and that don't actively work to remedy "inhumane" procedures.
FSIS has recommended that packing facilities identify where and under what circumstances livestock may experience excitement, discomfort, or accidental injury while being handled during the slaughter process. In addition, those facilities are being urged to design facilities and implement practices that will minimize injury and discomfort prior to slaughter.
"Plants should periodically evaluate their system for effectiveness and improve or adjust operations accordingly," said FSIS, in its Federal Register announcement earlier this month. "Implementing these steps will serve to improve product quality and efficiency as well as enhance worker safety."
FSIS officials indicated that numerous congressional inquiries and concerns from consumer and animal welfare groups have led to the increased enforcement of humane slaughtering regulations.
FSIS has received more than 20,000 letters during the past few years from individuals, consumer organizations, and animal welfare organizations expressing concerns regarding the humane treatment of livestock.
In addition, the agency said there has been a marked increase in the number of violations over the past three years. The percentage of that increase was not released by the agency.
An aide for a minority member of the House Ag Committee indicated that FSIS has said that instances of "inhumane handling" incidents have jumped 5-8 percent since the beginning of 2000.
"That is an increase of 1.5-2.5 million head possibly being mistreated prior to or during the slaughter process since the beginning of the (twenty-first) century," the aide said. "We have been asked by constituents to address the issue and we have taken those concerns up the ladder. It seems like the (packing) industry needs to address the concerns of the end-product user, and this is something consumers are paying much more attention to now."
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation, which was commissioned and funded by a House appropriations conference committee report, said the frequency of humane handling and slaughter noncompliance incidents increased significantly between January 2001 and March 2003 specifically. "Similarly, the number of noncompliance records documenting relatively minor violations increased as well," FSIS said, in its September 9 Federal Register announcement.
In 2001, FSIS started hiring District Veterinary Medical Specialists to serve as the primary contact for humane handling and slaughter issues in each district. In 2003, FSIS issued a directive to provide FSIS inspection personnel additional information on humane handling verification procedures and to clarify enforcement actions to be taken for violations.
Early this year, FSIS implemented its electronic Humane Activities Tracking program (HAT) to document inspection activities to ensure livestock are humanely handled in federally-inspected facilities. That program provides more accurate and readily available information on the activities and time spent by inspection personnel investigating the handling and slaughter procedures within individual plants.
HMSA requires that humane methods for handling and slaughtering be used for all meat inspected by FSIS.
FSIS also said it is making Humane handling research and documentation available to processors, so they can develop and maintain slaughter processes that are in compliance with current HMSA regulations. — Steven D. Vetter, WLJ Editor