The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced several measures that will better ensure the humane treatment and slaughter of all cattle presented for processing at FSIS-inspected facilities.
"Under this administration, we have significantly strengthened our ability to enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, but we have more work to do and must continue to look for ways that ensure the safe and humane slaughter of animals," said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. "That is why we are taking concrete steps to address outstanding humane handling issues, ranging from enhanced employee training to clearer guidance on existing rules."
The agency is pursuing the following new measures:
• Issuing procedures to inspection personnel to clarify that all non-ambulatory mature cattle must be condemned and promptly euthanized to ensure they are humanely handled, regardless of the reason for the animal's non-ambulatory status. The clarification is intended to ensure that the policy is consistently applied at all federally-inspected establishments by resolving any uncertainty on how inspectors should interpret existing rules. This FSIS Notice was issued.
• Responding to and soliciting comments on petitions from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Farm Sanctuary.
• Appointing an Ombudsman in the Office of Food Safety, designated specifically for humane handling issues. The ombudsman will provide FSIS employees a channel of communication to voice their concerns when the standard reporting mechanisms do not adequately address outstanding issues.
• Requesting the USDA Office of Inspector General audit industry appeals of noncompliance records and other humane handling enforcement actions by FSIS inspection program personnel. This will help determine whether FSIS has adequately handled humane handling violations identified by inspection personnel and challenged by an establishment. The audit will give the agency a better picture of how well the appeals process works, and if problems are found, FSIS will take action to address them.
• Delivering enhanced humane handling training to give inspection personnel more practical, situation-based training. Additional training modules that prepare inspectors for realistic scenarios they will face in the field will help the agency enforce HMSA regulations more effectively and consistently.
"When Congress passed the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, they provided FSIS with the authority to prevent needless suffering, and we take our responsibility very seriously," said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza. "Consumers need to be confident our inspectors have the direction they need to ensure that humane slaughter is carried out properly."
During the last two years, FSIS has implemented a number of measures to strengthen humane handling enforcement. For example, on March 14, 2009, the USDA announced a final rule to amend federal meat inspection regulations to require a complete ban on the slaughter of non-ambulatory cattle for use in human food. FSIS also created 24 new humane handling enforcement positions, including 23 in-plant personnel and a headquarters-based Humane Handling Enforcement Coordinator. Most recently, on October 14, 2010, FSIS issued draft guidelines to assist meat and poultry establishments that want to improve operations by using in-plant video monitoring.
For more information on these proposals, contact FSIS' Office of Policy and Program Development at (202) 205-0495.