Slaughtering inspection consistency needed: G.A.O.

by Joel Crews
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – In testimony before an oversight subcommittee of the U.S. Government Accountability Office March 4, a government report from Lisa Shames spelled out inspection shortfalls relating to enforcement of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978 (HMSA). Ms. Shames, director of natural resources and environment, said animal welfare concerns have been raised in large part by two incidents in the past several years, including violations at the Hallmark-Westland beef slaughtering plant in 2008 and another at Bushway Packing.

Ms. Shames reported to the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, House of Representatives that the GAO found inspectors at many U.S. slaughter plants have not taken consistent actions to enforce HMSA.

“In responding to our survey, different inspectors indicated they would take different enforcement actions when faced with a violation of humane handling requirements,” said Ms. Shames, whose testimony reflected findings from a random survey of 235 inspectors at 257 facilities between May 2009 and July 2009. The report also took into account the examination of Food Safety and Inspection Service noncompliance reports, which indicated incidents of inspectors not suspending plant operations or not enforcing regulations when they appeared to be warranted.

The report provided snapshots of survey questions answered by inspectors as to how they enforce violations to animal welfare guidelines for use of electrical prods, for example. Inconsistencies in whether inspectors should respond to violations with a regulatory action, noncompliance report or suspension were discovered, according to Ms. Shames.

The report also addressed the issue of training. “Inspectors at the plants we surveyed would like more guidance and training,” Ms. Shames said. Inspectors indicated enforcement training was most needed in the area of inspecting for acceptable electrical prod use, double stunning, stunning failure and slips and falls. Additional inspectors being placed in the proper places and at the proper time was also an area of opportunity noted in the Ms. Shames’ testimony. In concluding statements she also implied that the survey provides “evidence of systemic inconsistencies in enforcement” among inspectors. She recommended that the U.S.D.A. “consider the views of inspectors at the plants who are responsible for daily H.M.S.A. enforcement.”

To view the report, go to: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10487t.pdf

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