New humane handling guide released

Oct 25, 2013

— Agency says half of facilities already utilize new recommendations

It’s always nice to be ahead of the curve, especially in terms of humane handling and best practices. That was an important detail in a newly released humane handling guidance.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced last Wednesday the release of a new guidance on humane handling for livestock at slaughter. The guidance supports the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act portion of U.S. Code. However, FSIS notes that half of livestock slaughter plants already meet the recommendations set forth in the guidance.

“We have taken significant measures over the last few years to strengthen our ability to enforce humane handling laws at livestock slaughter facilities nationwide,” said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza.

“The guidance is one example of our commitment to the humane treatment of animals. We continue to implement improvements so that we have the best system possible.”

The guidance creates what it calls a systematic approach to humane handling for livestock at slaughter. It describes this systematic approach as “a comprehensive way of evaluating how livestock enter and move through an establishment.”

The guidance points out that poultry are not included in the definition of “livestock” for its purposes. It does note, however, that the Poultry Products Inspection Act requires “live poultry be handled in a manner that is consistent with good commercial practices, and that they not die from causes other than slaughter.”

According to the guidance, under a systematic approach to humane handling and slaughter, a facility should:

• Assess the ability of their livestock handling and slaughter practices to minimize distress and injury to livestock.

• Design facilities and implement handling practices that minimize distress and injury to livestock.

• Periodically evaluate facilities and handling methods to ensure that they continue to minimize distress and injury to livestock.

• When necessary, modify facilities and handling methods to ensure that they continue to minimize distress and injury to livestock.

A systematic approach is differentiated from a robust systematic approach in the guidance by the amount of record-keeping done and official FSIS review of those records. FSIS will assess an establishment’s systematic approach by observation of livestock flow and interviews with facility personnel.

In the case of “egregious inhumane treatment”— which it defines as “any act or condition that results in severe harm to animals”— the guidance authorizes FSIS to suspend inspection at the offending facility without prior notification. FSIS may, however, exercise enforcement discretion on a violation-to-violation basis.

According to the FSIS announcement of the new guidance, it was developed to address the humane handling incidents cited in the spring 2013 Office of Inspector General report. It also noted that FSIS is complementing the guidance with stepped-up training to inspectors and veterinarians who enforce humane handling requirements. The training presents a variety of realistic animal handling scenarios that those individuals may encounter, from truck unloading to stunning to post-stunning.

As mentioned, despite the release of this new guidance, much of the work towards improved and more widely systematic humane handling practices are already underway.

“As of this year, half of all livestock slaughter establishments have adopted the systematic approach to humane handling, meeting the agency’s strategic objective three years early,” reported FSIS. “The agency will continue to implement additional best practices to support the humane treatment of animals.” — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor