FSIS updates humane treatment instructions

Published on October 01, 2011
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Updated instructions for federal food inspectors are intended to provide greater assurance that animals are treated humanely before slaughter.

The Department of Agriculture published the instructions Aug. 15 in a new version of the directive on humane handling and slaughter of livestock. That directive took effect Sept. 15, adding to and replacing an edition that had been in effect since 2003.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service announced that the instructions are intended to help its employees minimize the excitement, pain, injury, and discomfort experienced by animals in slaughter facilities. They are also intended to help inspectors evaluate animal handling plans.

The directive also clarifies activities connected with animals slaughtered for consumption and use by a particular customer, rather than for commerce.

The USDA defines in the directive what types of animal treatment qualify as egregiously inhumane. When identified by inspectors, such actions can provide justification for immediately suspending inspections—effectively shutting down offending slaughter facilities. Such treatment can involve workers beating animals, prodding disabled animals, stunning animals and allowing them to regain consciousness, and otherwise inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering, the announcement states.

The new version of the directive includes more-detailed descriptions of inspectors' duties, describes methods inspectors should use to verify that slaughter facilities are complying with laws and regulations, and incorporates recent regulations regarding nonambulatory animals and animal transportation. Specific inspection instructions relate to aspects of housing and transportation such as the availability of water and feed and the conditions of ramps used by animals.

In addition, the new FSIS directive instructs inspection program personnel on how to determine whether an establishment has secondary entrances or equipment that create inhumane conditions, such as entrances too small for the animals or slippery ramps, or that could be used to illegally bring in nonambulatory cattle, dead animals, or uninspected animals for slaughter.

In the past several years, farms and slaughter facilities have repeatedly been the subjects of secretly recorded videos depicting what advocacy organizations have indicated was inhumane or abusive treatment. A Vermont slaughter facility was closed after footage released by the Humane Society of the United States in fall 2009 appeared to show employees abusing calves in ways similar to those described in the recent FSIS announcement and an FSIS inspector failing to report those violations.

FSIS information indicates the agency considered input from stakeholders, including advocacy organizations, when drafting the revised directive, but it was updated primarily to include instructions consistent with humane handling policies enacted in the past few years

To view the directive, go to www.fsis.usda.gov and search for Directive 6900.2.