March 15, 7:03 PM
Animal Policy Examiner - Katerina Lorenzatos Makris
The federal agency responsible for ensuring humane handling of animals in slaughterhouses does so inconsistently, resulting in continued “egregious” abuses, charges a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Testifying before congress this month, a GAO official described flawed enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978 (HMSA), which “prohibits the inhumane treatment of livestock in slaughter plants.”
A three-month study by the GAO found U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) "weaknesses" in monitoring meatpacking companies’ compliance with the HMSA law.
Anal shocking and other abuses continue
GAO Director of Natural Resources and Environment Lisa Shames told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on government reform that USDA inspectors often do not take action against companies for such illegal practices as:
Using electric prods to shock animals in sensitive areas such as the anus and eyes
Excessive beating or electric prodding of ambulatory or nonambulatory disabled animals
Using electric prods to shock more than 50 out of 100 animals
“Concerns about the humane handling and slaughter of livestock have increased in recent years,” Shames added, “particularly after possible HMSA violations were revealed at a slaughter plant in California in 2008 and one in Vermont in 2009.”
USDA failed to implement previous GAO recommendations
“In 2004, we recommended that FSIS [the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service] establish additional clear, specific, and consistent criteria for district offices to use when considering whether to take enforcement actions because of repeat violations,” recalled Shames.
“FSIS agreed with this recommendation and delegated to the districts the responsibility for determining how many repeat violations should result in a suspension,” she said. “However, incidents such as those at the slaughter plants in California and in Vermont suggest that this delegation was not successful. To date, FSIS has not issued additional guidance.”
No action taken on some violations
Shames described the performance of FSIS on humane issues as follows:
“… our analysis of noncompliance reports shows inconsistency in the actions inspectors took in response to excessive beating or prodding. “
“ … excessive beating or prodding of ambulatory or nonambulatory disabled animals is egregious abuse—and may therefore warrant suspension of plant operations.”
“Our review of noncompliance reports identified incidents in which inspectors did not suspend plant operations or take regulatory actions when they appeared warranted. “
“From inspectors’ noncompliance reports, we identified several specific incidents in which inspectors did not either take a regulatory control action or suspend plant operations.”
Not enough veterinarians
“In February 2009, we reported that the FSIS veterinarian workforce had decreased by nearly 10 percent since fiscal year 2003 and that the agency had not been fully staffed over the past decade,” Shames testified.
“As of fiscal year 2008, FSIS had a 15 percent shortage of veterinarians," she said. "The majority of these veterinarians work in slaughter plants, and these plants ranged from no vacancy to 35 percent of their veterinarian positions vacant.”
How the study was done
Shames said the GAO “conducted a survey of inspectors-in-charge—those responsible for reporting on humane handling enforcement in the plants—from a random sample of inspectors-in-charge at 257 livestock slaughter plants from May 2009 through July 2009.”
The study also “examined a sample of FSIS noncompliance reports, suspension data, and district veterinary medical specialist reports in all 15 of FSIS’s district offices for fiscal years 2005 through 2009,” said Shames.
To lean about the GAO’s recommendations to the USDA and the USDA’s response, please visit Animal Policy Examiner again for an upcoming article on:
“Slaughterhouse inspectors request USDA guidance on what constitutes animal abuse”
Katerina Lorenzatos Makris (a.k.a. Kathryn Makris) is the author of 18 books for publishers including Avon, E.P. Dutton, and Simon and Schuster, and a teleplay for CBS.
Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines such as San Francisco Chronicle and National Geographic Traveler.
Among her books are Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know about Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need (The Lyons Press), coauthored with Shelley Frost, and The Eco-Kids, a series of novels for tweens (Avon Books).
Her story Small Change placed as a finalist in The Bark magazine's short fiction contest and will be published this year.
She holds a B.A. in Environmental Science Studies and a lifelong interest in animal issues.
She may be reached at email@example.com.
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