USDA is committed to ensuring the humane treatment and slaughter of all animals that are presented for slaughter. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the Agency within USDA responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, and accurately labeled. FSIS is also responsible for ensuring industry's compliance with poultry good commercial practices and with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), which requires that livestock be handled and slaughtered in a humane way. FSIS does not hesitate to take enforcement action against establishments that fail to meet humane handling requirements.
FSIS employs a cadre of District Veterinary Medical Specialists (DVMSs) who ensure that industry adheres to the HMSA and serve as experts regarding livestock humane handling issues and poultry good commercial practices. DVMSs verify humane handling at FSIS-inspected livestock slaughter facilities every 12-18 months, and review good commercial slaughter practices at poultry plants every 12 months, and share their findings with the in-plant inspection personnel to ensure regulatory compliance and consistency. Any humane handling violations discovered during these on-site reviews are handled appropriately.
FSIS assigns a Public Health Veterinarian (PHV) to every FSIS-inspected livestock slaughter establishment. PHVs and other inspection program personnel enforce humane methods in these plants by observing the daily handling and slaughter of all cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules, or other equines; ensuring plants take corrective action where needed; and taking enforcement action in response to instances of inhumane treatment. FSIS in-plant personnel take necessary regulatory action, up to and including suspension of slaughter operations, if they see any inhumane treatment of animals at livestock slaughter establishments.
As of January 2012, there are approximately 800 FSIS-inspected livestock slaughter establishments that slaughter approximately 150 million head of livestock per year, and approximately 300 poultry slaughter establishments that slaughter approximately nine billion birds per year.
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Inspection program personnel who perform humane handling verification and enforcement duties complete classroom training and an exam on antemortem inspection and humane slaughter. A training video on humane slaughter has been developed to educate new personnel and continue the education of veteran inspection personnel.
FSIS personnel assigned to livestock slaughter facilities have also completed enhanced, situation-based training that presents inspection program personnel with realistic scenarios that they may encounter when verifying humane handling activities. This situation-based training will help the Agency enforce HMSA regulations more effectively and consistently.
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FSIS is continually considering new ways to ensure humane handling, and has taken many actions to raise the level of awareness among its employees and among industry regarding the importance of humane handling and stunning. For example:
In August 2011, FSIS issued an update to the agency's directive on the Humane Handling and Slaughter of Livestock (6900.2, Revision 2; PDF Only), which reminds inspection program personnel of the requirements, verification activities, and enforcement actions for ensuring that the handling and slaughter of livestock is humane. The update also instructs personnel to notify establishments that they may choose to develop and implement an effective, systematic approach for the humane handling of animals.
Also in August 2011, FSIS announced a final compliance guide (PDF Only) for voluntary in-plant video monitoring. These guidelines assist meat and poultry establishments that want to improve humane handling and food safety by using in-plant video monitoring.
FSIS also asked the USDA Office of the Inspector General to audit industry appeals of noncompliance records and other humane handling enforcement actions by FSIS inspection program personnel. This will ensure that FSIS handles appeals of humane handling violations adequately and consistently.
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FSIS will continue to work with stakeholders with an interest in HMSA enforcement and compliance, and will continue to encourage industry to voluntarily implement systematic approaches to humane handling.
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