FSIS enforces humane handling laws appropriately: OIG

by Staff
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WASHINGTON – In April, the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported the Food Safety and Inspection Service appropriately handled industry appeals of its humane handling enforcement actions. At the request of the Office of Food Safety, an audit was performed to ensure FSIS was appropriately enforcing federal humane handling laws.

As a result, positive findings were published by OIG and it did not make formal recommendations for FSIS.

"The OIG determination shows that FSIS' enforcement of humane handling regulations, as well as its appeals process, is fair and consistent," said Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen. "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."

This audit of FSIS’ performance is just several measures FSIS announced in December 2010 it was undertaking to better ensure the humane treatment and slaughter of all livestock presented for processing at FSIS-inspected facilities.

FSIS has taken the following measures since the December 2010 announcement to improve FSIS verification and enforcement of federal humane handling laws:

• Inspection program personnel were issued instructions clarifying that all non-ambulatory mature cattle must be condemned and promptly euthanized. The clarification focused on ensuring that animals are humanely handled and that the policy is consistently applied nationwide.
• 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 they are familiar with the realistic scenarios that they may encounter.
• Its humane handling directive was updated to instruct FSIS personnel to notify establishments that they may develop and implement a systematic approach to humane handling.
• Helped create an Office of Food Safety position 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 filling this position.

Transparency of FSIS’ enforcement of federal humane handling laws has also been increased by the agency. FSIS began publishing a new Humane Handling Quarterly Report that includes all noncompliance records issued for inhumane handling plus the time spent by employees on humane handling verification activities. In the past, humane handling enforcement data posted on the FSIS website was limited to suspensions. FSIS also began posting redacted notices of enforcement actions taken against establishments that have been found in violation of federal humane handling laws.

In order to maximize industry compliance with humane-handling laws, 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.

To read the audit report, visit OIG's website at www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/24601-0002-31.pdf.

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