Activists petition USDA on animal welfare issues

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Activists petition USDA on animal welfare issues

By Lisa M. Keefe on 9/2/2015

A coalition of animal rights activist organizations have formally petitioned USDA to amend regulations related to the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

The goal is to both change some of the regulations regarding how livestock is treated on its way to slaughter and to hold USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors to the letter of the laws already in place, Bruce G. Friedrich, director of policy and engagement for Farm Sanctuary, explained in an interview with Meatingplace.

The petition was submitted by Farm Sanctuary, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Compassion Over Killing, Farm Forward, Mercy for Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The 40-page document is the result of the analysis of two years of FSIS data on various humane handling enforcement actions, Friederich said.

The petition calls for five changes to the existing regulatory code, four of which, Friedrich said, mirror recommendations already made by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General.

“For 35 years, FSIS has been treating humane slaughter like it’s a suggestion, but the Agency is legally obligated to enforce the law. While some inspectors clearly care about it, the lack of concern at the top filters down, so that what we have now is the equivalent of speed limits with no state troopers to properly enforce them,” Friedrich said in a follow-up email exchange with Meatingplace.

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI), however, said in a statement that the changes the petition calls for would actually jeopardize a plant’s ability to manage their humane handling responsibilities.

“Granting the requests made by a coalition of animal rights groups actually could jeopardize animal welfare in meat plants because it would limit the ability of plant to take swift and appropriate action when needed,” said NAMI Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel Mark D. Dopp.

“USDA’s FSIS wisely has permitted plants that acknowledge in advance through written plans that some animals, like large bulls or mature dairy cows, may be difficult to stun with a single blow as the law’s language requires, Dopp added.

“FSIS’ approach also recognizes that livestock don’t always stand perfectly still and human beings charged with stunning and handling can’t executive every movement perfectly 100 percent of the time. If the agency is forced to use a regulatory sledge hammer when a plant does the right thing — like double-stunning an animal when it appears necessary — it will only mean the wrong thing will happen more often, like failing to ensure an animal feels no pain.

“During the time period detailed in this petition, our industry processed nearly 300 million cattle, pigs and sheep. While we work to ensure optimal welfare, perfection is simply not possible. Still, our overall record is one that reflects a committed, well-regulated and carefully inspected industry,” he noted.