April 23, 2014

USDA’s Inspector General Issues Report on FSIS Humane Handling

Cows in the FieldThe USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued a positive report on the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Humane Handling Enforcement report. The audit was in reaction to a 2010 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report that stated there were weaknesses in the USDA enforcement of humane slaughter methods.

The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) of 1978 prohibits the inhumane treatment of livestock and requires that animals be rendered unable to feel pain before being slaughtered. There were charges of inhumane treatment leveled at two plants in this study, one in California in 2008 and a Vermont facility in 2009.

The 2010 GAO report found that inspectors did not consistently enforce HMSA and that “inspectors did not suspend plant operations or take regulatory actions when they appeared warranted.” The report stated that FSIS has not “clearly outlined the agency’s goals for enforcing HSMA, identified expected resource needs, specified time frames, or laid out performance metrics.”

The report’s authors recommended that “FSIS take actions to strengthen its oversight of humane handling and slaughter methods at federally inspected facilities and develop an integrated strategy that clearly defines goals, identifies resources needed, and establishes time frames and performance metrics specifically for enforcing HSMA.”

The Inspector General reviewed 138 humane handling noncompliance records and the 13 enforcement actions that establishments appealed, and found that FSIS “procedures were adequate and FSIS followed its establishment procedures to appropriately address the appeals we reviewed. However, we did find that FSIS can improve how it tracks and monitors appeals of humane handling noncompliance records by citing the regulatory justification for any appeals that it grants; ensuring that noncompliance records are written adequately to support the violation; and tracking the time it takes to process appeals.”

Food Poisoning Bulletin asked Tracie Letterman, Director of Regulatory Affairs at the Humane Society of the United States about this issue. She said, ” I think it’s positive that USDA leadership (Hagen) requested this audit and it’s good to see that they got a positive review from the auditors and have taken proactive steps to address humane handling problems.”

FSIS has changed some policies to better enforce humane handling laws. They emphasized to personnel that non-ambulatory mature cattle must be humanely euthanized and not enter the food chain. More training has been provided to FSIS inspection personnel. And the department created an Ombudsman position as a neutral third party to receive humane handling concerns.

But Paul Shapiro, Vice President of Farm Animal Protection at the Humane Society of the United States, told Food Poisoning Bulletin that  “more than 9 out of 10 slaughtered farm animals are poultry, and the USDA exempts them from the HMSA.”

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