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Under Secretary for Food Safety Shares Some Insight on the Humane Handling of Livestock

Posted by Under Secretary for Food Safety, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, Food Safety and Inspection Service in Health and Safety
Jan 07, 2011

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is making significant changes this year to strengthen humane handling enforcement-making it a more objective, and less subjective, measure.

As a public health agency, FSIS is responsible for ensuring that America’s supply of meat and poultry products are produced both safely and humanely. USDA takes that responsibility seriously and is deeply committed to the humane handling of livestock as we strive to improve food safety efforts.

That is why under this Administration, we have significantly boosted our ability to enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Changes in policy we made last month will now close a loophole that once allowed elderly or sick animals to be processed as food, after resting or receiving veterinary care. Those animals will now be humanely euthanized.

We are also taking concrete steps to address outstanding humane handling issues--solutions ranging from extensive employee training to clearer guidance on existing rules.  [To see new measures that the Agency is pursuing, go here.]

We are appointing an Ombudsman in the Office of Food Safety who will act as an independent and impartial arbiter, accepting concerns in a confidential yet informal setting for FSIS employees who feel that their humane handling concerns may not have been addressed by current reporting mechanisms.

Come the spring, inspection personnel will receive enhanced humane handling training that is more practical and situation-based. And we’ll be responding to and asking for public comments on petitions from the Humane Society of the United States and Farm Sanctuary.

An Office of the Inspector General audit of non-compliance records and enforcement actions will help us determine whether FSIS is addressing such appeals adequately, and whether we can take concrete steps to improve the process for reporting and appealing humane handling violations.

These recent actions in no way end our efforts.

The Department fully supports the investigation of all those involved in alleged violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Investigators from our enforcement division and from USDA’s Inspector General, as well as U.S. Attorneys, stand ready to work side by side when such cases arise for prosecution.

Consumers can have peace-of-mind knowing that FSIS will continually review and assess our humane handling/slaughter policies and practices to make sure our in-plant personnel possess the tools and resources necessary to do their jobs consistently and in compliance with federal law.

Category/Topic: Health and Safety