The USDA Office of Inspector General this month reported that the Food Safety and Inspection Service appropriately handles industry appeals of its humane handling enforcement actions.
OIG did an audit at the request of the Office of Food Safety to ensure that FSIS was appropriately enforcing federal humane handling laws. OIG published positive findings and made no formal recommendations for change to FSIS.
"The OIG determination shows that FSIS' enforcement of humane handling regulations, as well as its appeals process, is fair and consistent," said Elisabeth Hagen, undersecretary for food safety. "As OIG noted, FSIS has taken many steps to improve its inspectors' understanding of humane handling requirements and the tools they have to ensure the humane handling of livestock."
The audit of the agency's performance is among several measures FSIS announced in December 2010 that it was undertaking to better ensure the humane treatment and slaughter of all livestock presented for processing at FSIS-inspected facilities.
Since that 2010 announcement FSIS has taken the following measures to improve FSIS verification and enforcement of federal humane handling laws:
- It issued instructions to inspection program personnel, clarifying that all non-ambulatory mature cattle must be condemned and promptly euthanized. The clarification was focused on ensuring that animals are humanely handled and that the policy is consistently applied nationwide.
- It delivered enhanced, situation-based humane handling training to the FSIS inspection program personnel who perform humane handling verification duties at livestock slaughter establishments to ensure that they are familiar with the realistic scenarios that they may encounter.
- It updated its humane handling directive to instruct FSIS personnel to notify establishments that they may develop and implement a systematic approach to humane handling.
- It helped to create a position in the Office of Food Safety for an Ombudsman, a neutral party to whom FSIS field personnel can report humane handling concerns when the standard reporting mechanisms do not adequately address outstanding issues. USDA is currently in the process of filling this position.
FSIS also began publishing a new Humane Handling Quarterly Report, which includes all noncompliance records issued for inhumane handling, as well as the time spent by employees on humane-handling verification activities.
Previously, humane handling enforcement data posted on the FSIS website was limited to suspensions. FSIS has now begun posting redacted notices of enforcement actions taken against establishments that have been found in violation of federal humane handling laws.
Last, FSIS published a final compliance guide on voluntary in-plant video monitoring to assist meat and poultry establishments that want to improve operations by verifying livestock humane handling and poultry good commercial practices.The audit report can be found on OIG's website.